With a litany of lies, Donald Trump has demanded a monopoly on the truth since he became a presidential contender, and he’s showing no sign of fatigue.
Now, as the leader of a party that spent most of recent memory attacking a Democratic president over executive overreach, Trump has gone on an executive rampage, asserting his newfound control over every corner of the federal government. He’s quashed the flow of information from federal agencies, and he is trying to control the media channels that have lived off his spectacles for months as well.
I’ll give it to you straight: Making news involves the negotiating of information, and one thing the government can leverage in these negotiations is what’s known as “access.” If a news crew can’t set up its camera at important political speeches, or a star politico never responds to requests for interviews, a major newsroom could find it difficult to compete with others for big stories, at least in theory.
This theory was on full display earlier this week when news outlets slammed the White House for lying about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer lashed out at reporters for refusing to be gullible. Kellyanne Conway, a Trump advisor and apparent inventor of “alternative facts,” warned that the White House may “rethink its relationship” with NBC after Chuck Todd backed her into a corner with, well, facts.
The media backlash was stern and immediate, as well it should be, but Trump’s PR team’s behavior sends a clear and disturbing message: If you don’t accept our legitimacy, no matter how skewed the “alternative facts” may be, then we won’t accept yours. If you do wrong by Trump, then he and other high-ranking attention-getters will take their network TV interviews elsewhere.
Leveraging access is nothing new — government offices have long given certain journalists access to information in exchange for a say in how that information is disseminated — but declaring a “war with the media” during the first days of an administration is unprecedented, especially for a president who lost the popular vote.
Trump is making it clear that, in order to fulfill his national vision with his executive hand, he must control not only the government, but the public narrative as well. This is classic Trump behavior, but now that he has assumed one of the most powerful offices in the world, he will be able to shape the information we receive in ways he never has before.
Major media outlets may be standing up to Trump at the moment, but as the gears of Washington really start rolling, Trump will have a lot of say over how reporters access and cover what could be one of the most bizarre and tumultuous presidencies ever. If he can spout lies on a daily basis without breaking a sweat, then he can warp mainstream news by playing favorites as well.
Trump could also have a say in how we get our information, especially online. His pick to chair the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, has been waiting for a chance to dismantle net neutrality since the FCC made it the law of the land in 2015. This could open the door for internet providers and media conglomerates to strike deals that could change how easily and quickly you access certain parts of the web.
The FCC’s current net neutrality regime protects the internet as a public utility instead of a pay-to-play information service. Without these protections, access to a wide variety of news and information sources could conceivably become a premium service available only to those who can afford it. Repealing net neutrality is a major goal of big telecom companies, so how would they repay Trump for his loyalty?
Alternative sources of news have never been more important. At Truthout, we’re not concerned about whether Trump will give us exclusive interviews or invite us backstage with foreign dignitaries. Instead, we’re busy using hard facts to expose the real-world impacts of bad policies, and amplifying voices that are speaking truth to power.
Trump acts like he is immune to facts and fact-checkers, so facts alone won’t hold him to account. Trumpism must be countered with a completely different narrative, and that is the story we are writing today. It’s a story of truth and resistance, and it starts with real information that is free to all.