There’s been an awful lot of news in recent days. For me, two stories stand out: The ear-piercing thunder claps over President Trump’s tweets; and the snippets of news whispered about ISIS militants who starved a Yazidi woman, eventually fed her rice and meat, and then told her that the meat she had just eaten was her kidnapped toddler.
In the world of things that really matter, Trump’s tweets are like dust mites: miniscule to the naked eye but, under a microscope, they look like monsters.
Media has an immense – and vital – power to focus the nation’s attention on what really matters. But under today’s media microscope, mole hills are made to look like mountains, and mountains are ignored out of existence. The problem? The “mountains” don’t go away, except on TV. Ask the Yazidis. Ask the U.S. Treasury Secretary. Ask Chicago. Ask the police, or veterans. Ask small business owners.
But we get it. The news business, ultimately, is a business (right, John Bonifield?). If customers tune out, journalists lose their jobs. To keep customers happy, media has to be short on the veggies, which must be served with spoons full of sugar – short and sweet. And Americans are addicted to sugar. Try curing that, and they’ll just change the channel.
Phil Donahue expressed this dilemma to MSNBC Host Stephanie Ruhle recently.
“You’re (the press) supposed to tell people, often, what they don’t want to hear – that’s your job,” said Donahue. “Of course the problem is, if you’re not popular, you don’t get promoted in the news game, and somebody else will have to feed your kids. It’s a tough dilemma ….”
We get it.
So, the media can herald the virtues of “constitutional free press” all it wants. When cold, calculated survival demands it, they will “shout fire in a crowded theater” to save their own skin; and then cover up the crime with sermons garbed in the free speech gospel. A Project Veritas video laid bare CNN’s survival instinct. Its CEO rigged the truth to rack in Russia ratings. Trump was right; the collusion angle was fake.
Of course, presidents complaining about “fake news” is as old as Thomas Jefferson. He once said, “I deplore … the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed and the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write for them. … These ordures (pieces of manure) are rapidly depraving the public taste and lessening its relish for sound food.”
Jefferson also said, “ … the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors.”
That “fake news” is so old is a bit comforting because it tells you that journalism can be drained of its “ordures.” I’m old enough to remember journalism’s modern attempt at objectivity. Watching the major networks growing up, I had no idea who believed what. It was just news.
Major declines in objectivity came with Nixon; then with Reagan and the big Bush; and it deteriorated big time with little Bush, when objectivity became fake. With the election of Donald Trump – the loud-mouthed Muhammad Ali of politics – even fake objectivity disappeared.
Like the Coyote chasing the Roadrunner, anti-Trump media and its left-leaning comrades use every trick in the book to gobble him up. Nothing sticks. After the collusion scheme, cussing celebrities, impeachment pleas, and now, threats to invoke the 25th Amendment’s “unable to serve” clause, Trump just keeps on running – with a smile: “Beep-beep! Tweet-tweet!”
Trump’s tweets have shown left-leaning media to be frustrated, desperate, hateful, greedy (for ratings), and very thin-skinned. It’s surreal.
Reporters screamed that the retweet of Trump beating up a CNN logo could get journalists killed; but journalists are killing journalism.
Trump’s tweets, they trumpet, are proof that he is a “vulgar pig,” mentally unstable, a danger to the country, a misogynist, a racist, an Islamophobe, and a homophobe. On top of that, he’s “ugly to look at.” Yet, an eyewitness fresh from Syria fluted that Kurdish rebels fighting against ISIS cheered every time the name “Donald Trump” was mentioned.
A hostile CNN nitpicked about Trump walking to the wrong limousine in Poland, getting “dissed” by Poland’s first lady, and about how boilerplate and white-centric his speech was. Meanwhile, an energized Polish audience interrupted Trump’s speech several times to shout: “Donald Trump! Donald Trump! Donald Trump! USA! USA! USA!”
With so many fires to put out, it’s hard for me to get too worked up about Trump’s tweets. It’s just as hard for me to see how “the most powerful man in the world” is convinced that a big Twitter following is his best weapon against a hostile media. He commands the Bully Pulpit, a forum equal to the size of a world of media – with billions following. As a bitter media skitters to oblivion, Trump’s strategic silence could thunder lightning bolts of much-needed presidential dignity across the political sky. Tweets reduce his eagle roar to a cheap chicken’s chirp.
But what do I know? We live in interesting times. Trump’s instinctive tweets seem to be working against activist journalists. Pathological disappointment in his election has made the media’s extremely vital role extremely dysfunctional. News sharks, fermented in the brew of Watergate journalism, are intoxicated with making a name for themselves. In Trump, they smell blood.
Journalists mistake America’s sacred “free press” institution for the business of news. The right to a free press doesn’t belong to the news business, per se; it belongs to the American people. Like officeholders, the news business holds a sacred trust and they, too, have a duty to perform. They wield enormous constitutional powers, and their performance is measured by the responsibilities of that power – a power which, today, is being abused.
Journalists need to get back to reporting – with thunders and trumpets – the stuff that really matters, so the whispers and flutes of frivolity remain in their places: on the fringe mole hills of sweet entertainment.