Tomorrow, Thursday, August 16, news media far and wide across our country will publish editorials with a common theme; President Trump. The coordinated effort began with the famous newspaper, The Boston Globe, which sent out a request for all types of news media, large and small, to unite against the President’s “dirty war against the free press”. While the timing of the editorial effort is consistent, each paper and news channel will use their discretion as to the content.
Since elected to the Presidency, Mr. Trump has made no secret about his feelings towards some of the media outlets and in some cases, individual reporters who cover his administration. There are some he likes, and others he hates. Some have even been banished from White House press events. All of them know exactly where they stand with the POTUS.
Daily tweets from @realdonaldtrump are like nothing we’ve seen from a previous President; this whole presidency is like nothing we’ve seen before. All this upheaval of past practice has the press scrambling to keep up while simultaneously deflecting swipes and jabs.
The POTUS is unconventional for sure, but his words don’t make him the sworn enemy of the press. After all, he is still a citizen with the right to free speech just like the news has freedom of the press. The President is using his stage the same way some NFL players are using theirs – to get a message out to as many people as possible despite public opinion.
Past presidents behaved much worse in their dastardly deeds against the press. This list is old and long. Presidents as far back as John Adams have signed Sedition Acts and jailed “treasonous” publishers of unflattering news. In the 20th Century, President Nixon used the C.I.A. to wiretap and spy on The Washington Post. This makes Mr. Trump look pretty tame in comparison. It must be today’s reporters are more thin-skinned than those in the past.
It’s not too hard to make the case the real enemy of the press is the press themselves. In 1976 CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite was considered the Most Trusted Man in America when the Gallup Organization published a poll that showed the news media was considered ‘trustworthy’ or ‘very trustworthy’ by 72 percent of those asked. Gallup conducted the same poll in 2016 (before President Trump’s election) that showed only 32 percent of those polled thought of the press as even ‘trustworthy’. If the poll was taken today, the numbers would certainly be lower still.
Something changed the public’s mind. A 40 point change in opinion doesn’t happen overnight or with one incorrect news story. The change of perception of a whole industry took years to manifest. The turning point may be found in CNN’s infancy when their 24-hour news broadcast began just in time for live coverage of Desert Storm. Soon after, news channels were all the rage.
The sprouting of follow-on cable news competition turned fact-gathering reporters into rating-worshiping celebrities. In order to split up the rating pie, each news outlet needed to pander to segments of the population in order to generate consistent viewers or subscribers, which we know equals rating dollars.
Now everyone gets to hear the news slanted toward the direction of their choosing, supported by advertisers that match the viewer’s values. It’s not just visual news; the large, big-name print media also take sides on either end of the political and social spectrum.
No one can argue against the importance of a free press. The United States owes its existence to revolutionary publishers who united the like-minded thinkers to action. Even back then, the press took a side in a political issue so no one should be surprised they still do it. It is up to viewers and readers to decide what is factually correct.
Another news poll was recently taken that indicated 59 percent of the Americans asked preferred news outlets to report just the facts with no interpretation or commentary. That would work out great – now all we need to do is agree on what the facts actually are.