Trump, the Mainstream Media and the Search for Truth

Once again, President Donald Trump has declared that the media is “the enemy of the American people,” most recently in a speech at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference. “It is more Nixonian than Nixon,” exclaimed former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean while speaking with Amy Goodman to discuss Trump’s relationship with the press. The big difference was that President Nixon only “did those things behind closed doors.”

In a maneuver that appears to have been retaliatory, favoring a handpicked group of conservative outlets which included Breitbart News, access to a February 24 briefing with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer barred news organizations long in possession of a “hard pass.” Denied entry were the Guardian, The New York Times, Politico, CNN, BuzzFeed, the BBC and other publications seemingly not laudatory enough for this administration.

“It’s troublesome that he would try to sway the press by using the bully pulpit of his office to intimidate” the media, said John Dean on Democracy Now!. “I don’t think [Trump] has even a good newspaper-knowledge of the way the presidency works.”

According to CBS CEO Les Moonves, those same mainstream media outlets profited handsomely from their inordinate campaign coverage of Donald Trump — whose assertions are usually framed in simple, concrete, direct language that typically reflects attitudes more than policy statements. However, since his subsequent incarnation as president — to which they disastrously contributed — these same mainstream media outlets have discovered that neutrality is not acceptable; if you’re not for Trump, then you, too, will go the way of Mrs. Clinton.

Given the hypocrisy of corporate media’s distinctive retreat from historical memory and civic courage, the observations of Canadian scholar and culture critic Henry Giroux suggest that there may well be something to President Trump and White House Chief Strategist Steven Bannon’s declarations against the mainstream press — just not for the same reasons.

When deployed to political ends, mainstream media have evolved to legitimize the Trump administration. Even when the Trump administration is caught lying, they are confident “the alternative-reality media will provide air cover,” says Charles J. Sykes, who thinks the mainstream media echo chamber has “morphed into a full-blown alternate reality silo of conspiracy theories … and propaganda.”

For too long, the real power of the mainstream media has had little to do with either pursuing truth or holding power accountable, simply because they work “in conjunction with the financial elite and the military-industrial-academic complex as an echo chamber.”

Professor Giroux explains that their “real purpose has served to normalize corruption, lies, misrepresentation, accumulate capital and allow the transformation of the press to become an adjunct of authoritarian ideologies, policies, interests and commodified values — if that’s what it takes to increase their profit margins.”

Most significantly, the mainstream press functions as a mechanism for control by the financial elite over the commanding cultural apparatuses that produce, legitimize and distribute highly selective media narratives that shore up the most reactionary ideologies and financial interests.

In short, the mainstream media have engaged in the “normalization” and distortion of truth while enabling the simultaneous suppression of dissent; they’ve “legitimized the kind of political and moral cowardice that undermines informed resistance,” writes Giroux.

Reporters at the Wall Street Journal have been forbidden to use the word “lie” in their coverage of this administration, and NPR has taken a similar position over concerns that they’d push people away — a clear retreat from the ideals of journalism.

On the other hand, it’s doubtful that President Trump is attempting to extract existential meaning from his continuous monitoring of CNN — the enemy! Unfortunately, the”enemy” of the American people hasn’t been in hot pursuit of the truth for some time.