A little after one o-clock a.m. this morning, I started my car for the drive home after an entire day in Washington, D.C. marching in solidarity with over a million intrepid, committed activists at the Women’s March. My Sirius XM unit was still on the BBC channel, which I must have been listening to on the drive to the park and ride 4:30 yesterday morning. The march was, of course, big news. Few predicted the turnout all over the globe on every continent–even Antarctica. Naturally, then, the scope expanded to the stark contrast between the mind-boggling attendance of the march and the paucity of attendees at Trump’s Inauguration the day before. The report cut to a clip of White House Spokesman Sean Spicer claiming Trump’s swearing in garnered “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration”, and that any reports to the contrary are simply bald-faced lies the media perpetrated through manipulation of arial photography and shoddy reporting in an attempt to “minimize the enormous support” he claims President Trump had Friday.
Now, on the surface, this is just comical. I watched some of the Inauguration Friday live on CSPAN, which provided a few arial shots of the crowd on the National Mall. The crowd was noticeably not reaching all the way to the Washington Monument, as Trump claims. But if that’s not enough evidence, consider the testimony of witnesses. While waiting for a train back to the Green Belt station out of the District, one of my traveling companions asked a DC Metro Transit police officer how Friday’s traffic compared to yesterday’s. The officer shook his head, gave a wry grin, and said, “A Nationals game gets more people.”
The Guardian reports, “According to figures shared by the Metro Washington subway system on Twitter, 193,000 trips had been taken by 11am on Donald Trump’s inauguration day, compared with 513,000 during the same period on 20 January 2009 when Barack Obama took office.”
Unpack this a bit, though, and we will recognize a very alarming trend fomenting within the new administration. Spicer and Trump are not merely inaccurate. By accusing the media of malfeasance, they are engaging in an insidious, deliberate campaign to delegitimize the only industry so sacrosanct as to be specifically mentioned in the Constitution. That document’s framers understood that a free and open press is the “fourth estate”, the only protection against the type of tyrannical government from which we had rid ourselves. If the press is hobbled, we the people are left uninformed and susceptible to manipulation.
Now, I have been as critical of the corporate media as any other progressive. Once media became another revenue stream for multinational corporations, it became watered down, concerned only about political horseraces, ratings, and the pablum that earns them. I’ve written about this before. This is why we never heard boo about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on CNN, et. al. Former MSNBC journalist Ed Schultz got fired for trying to report about it because the TPP was a boon for the corporations underwriting the cable news outlets. This is why little to no coverage appeared about Standing Rock the past few months. This is why Bernie Sanders got merely seconds to minutes of coverage during the Presidential primary season and Donald Trump got thousands of hours of free media. The cable corporate news wanted Bernie to lambast Hillary Clinton instead of talking about income inequality and climate change legislation. Donald Trump was all too willing to give them what they wanted. And now he is President.
My criticisms, though, do not go so far as to accuse the media of lying. Not reporting the whole story is indeed a flaw, but it’s not a lie. It may be wrong to focus on the wrong angle of an issue for ratings and viewership instead of hard-hitting journalism, but CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC, CSPAN, ABC, the New York Times, and cities’ major newspapers, are reputable news organizations that deliver a vital–and constitutional–service to people. Imperfect, yes, but they aren’t the “lying press” Trump and his ilk are making them out to sound. The Trump administration is doing this because by discrediting the hard work of journalists, writers, investigators, fact-checkers, and the men and women behind the scenes, they are hoping we won’t catch on to the administration’s legerdemain and underhanded behavior, thereby making us complicit in its deceit and crimes. This is not a random nor a new practice. Despotic governments the world over throughout history have dismissed criticisms of their leaders in the media as unreliable. Truth becomes fiction; fiction becomes “fact”. George Orwell wrote about this in 1984 when he conceived a “Ministry of Truth”, charged with the responsibility of disseminating only what the authoritarian government wanted its citizens to know. It and it alone defined “facts” and “truth”.
Donald Trump wants us all to spend the next four years kissing his ring. No one wants negative criticism, but he is determined to make sure everything reported about him is complimentary, even if false. If not, it’s deemed “fake news”. This could be the beginning of a Trump state media akin to North Korea, Russia (how ironic), and myriad banana republics where the citizenry stays ignorant, malinformed, and powerless lest they learn their leaders are screwing them for personal gain. Just look at Trump’s pick for Education Secretary Betsy Devos, who wants to see public schools shuttered, eliminating access to free education, the tool of democracy.
But all is not lost. Despite helping to hand Trump the election, the mainstream media is not too happy with the way he’s treating it. It still has sway, and it will hold him accountable. Yesterday’s marches are indications of this. It’s up to us, though, to hold the media accountable for what’s important. After Trump jilted it, the media is, I feel, all too willing to get its payback.
As a friend of mine wrote on the sign she marched with yesterday, “Payback actually is a bitch”.