Michael S. Miller: “Disagreeing With The Facts: Media For Dummies”
President Donald J. Trump has embarked on a self-described and remarkably open “running war on media.” He calls its practitioners “dishonest” and works with such employees as Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to discredit the hourly flow of reporting that focuses on his every speech, tweet, and written word.
Trump engaging his supporters in a “running war on media” is akin to an elementary school lunchroom monitor conducting a cafeteria-wide “running war on canned brussel sprouts”; it’s the preaching-to-the-choir method of garnering support. Trump, “The Media,” and Congress are locked in a race to the bottom in terms of public opinion. But only two of those entities exist.
There is no “media,” in terms of a singular intellectual organization that sets an agenda and collaborates to carry it out. There are roughly 1,300 daily newspapers and 7,200 magazines in the United States and an estimated 15,300 radio stations and 14,700 TV stations originating in America. There are industry bodies for awards and ethics issues, but there is no likeminded effort to enact any agenda. Having worked for 30 years in print, radio and TV journalism in Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, San Jose, South Florida, southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio, I can attest that financial demands, staffing issues, technology innovations and regional competition drive publishers and editors, not industrywide daily memos about social agendas and political maneuverings.
There is inherent intellectual dishonesty in using a broad brush to taint all or most members of “The Media” as belonging to any one mindset. It’s in the same prejudiced thinking as racism, sexism, classism or any other presumptive “-ism.” Saying “Most journalists are liberal” is no different from proclaiming “Most Asians are X” or “Most women are Y” or “Most poor people are Z.” It’s not racial profiling; it’s professional profiling.
Targeting “The Media” as a singular, purposeful entity with a shared sentience is like organizing to influence the weather. The contradictory difference is that railing against rain and snow is meaningless; a president chopping away at “The Media” represents alarming danger.
By gas-lighting the American people to not just distrust “The Media,” but to doubt the existence of truth itself, Trump and his team are engaging in an ingenious pre-emptive strike. For when one reporter at one newspaper or web site uncovers a major conflict, breach or scandal, he or she will be exposed to a culture so dismissive, disbelieving, and conditioned to hostile mistrust that it may take a miracle to make an impact.
Once I have punched you 1,000 times, will the 1001st punch register? After the 1,000th report that “Trump lied!” is filed, will the 1001st carry any impact? Trump is the wolf crying “boy!” looking to diminutize and belittle the fictional collective efforts of thousands of very real individuals.
AT THE EXPENSE OF TRUTH
There is no “media” in the terms Trump targets it, but that does not mean he is completely incorrect about the collective impact of its shortcomings. Many journalists view their relationship with authority not just as oppositional, but as a permanent ambush/gotcha mission. Individual reporters make mistakes. Recalcitrant editors are sometimes slow to correct them. Commercial demands exert pressure on content that long ago undermined credibility. And yes, of course, some outlets follow specific agendas and follow them at the expense of truth.
Speaking of FOX News, that cable channel was by far Americans’ preferred source to view Trump’s inauguration. Nielsen reported 8.43 million people watched the ceremony on FOX; that compares on cable to 2.46 million viewing CNN and 1.35 million monitoring MSNBC (on broadcast television, NBC topped with 5.8 million viewers, followed by ABC’s 4.9 million and CBS’s 4.6 million). Since becoming president, Trump has at least once singled out FOX News for praise. He is directing his supporters to his on-again, off-again ally as an exception to his running war.
Combined with an unapologetic approach to present lies and inaccuracies as “alternative facts,” Trump and his team are actively undermining the First Amendment’s role in protecting American interests with such meant-to-confuse statements as Spicer telling the White House Press Corps that the Trump administration may “disagree with the facts.”
My 4-year-old child disagrees with facts. The men and women leading the free world are on dangerous ground when they engage in such Lewis Carroll logic.
Nefarious interfering agents pump “fake news” into the social networks, making muddy waters more dense with misinformation. “Facebook sucks,” has become a common refrain, but to paraphrase Harlan Ellison’s thoughts on television, Facebook does not suck; it is sucked, feeding jaundiced milk to an infantile public yearning for validation over investigation.
There is a scene in the Pixar animated film “Inside Out,” which largely takes place in a teenage girl’s brain, in which a box labeled “Facts” and a box labeled “Opinions” spill and mix their contents. The protagonist begins to agonize over separating them but is soon told not to worry about it, as “that happens all the time.” America’s new president is not just intent on allowing facts and opinions to blend; he seems committed to obliterating the distinction in the name of power.
In his “running war on media,” Don Trump is less like Don Quixote charging at windmills and more like Don Corleone strategizing against any and all perceived enemies — regardless of the body count, collateral damage or the price to his own inner circle.
There is no conscious-sharing “Media,” but the truth its individual contributors defend is under assault; journalists are a thin black line of defense against the intentional dismantling of transparency, accountability, liberty and freedom.
That is a fact.