Fake News, Democracy and Donald Trump's Press Conference

The chastisement of CNN’s senior Whitehouse correspondent Jim Acosta as a propagator of ‘fake news’ by Trump during his press conference on Wednesday has caught the attention of commentators across the political spectrum. 

Many like Sargon of Akkad have adeptly illustrated how the mainstream media has earned the ire of Trump, as well as their viewers, insofar as contemporary mainstream journalists consistently and demonstrably lie by omission. The indignation with which said journalists have responded to the ‘fake news’ moniker being flipped on them only amplifies the degree to which they live in a delusional bubble wherein they believe their own spin. 

Others, like The Young Turks, Salon and MSNBC in their interview with Michael Moore, regard Trump’s refusal to talk to CNN as portending the end of first amendment rights, and the diminished ability of the media to preserve the democratic rights of citizens by holding power to account. 

Insofar as the mainstream media do demonstrably and consistently lie to perpetuate their own ideological perspective, contemporary journalists are for the most part, more accurately perceived as perverting democratic process rather than protecting it. Without necessarily endorsing Trump’s approach to the dire state of Western journalism, I think one can concede that his refusal to engage with professional liars is at the very least, understandable.

The problem with his approach is that Acosta seemed to be arbitrarily singled out on the back of CNN’s reporting on (what many have termed) Golden Shower-Gate, or Piss-Gate. This arbitrariness seemingly endorses the popular narrative that Trump is prone to petty displays of power. Rather than a petty display of power however, it seemed to me a straightforward management tactic that one would reasonably employ within the context of a firm, or even a disciplinary tactic used by a classroom teacher. 

Not so long ago representatives from most of the main news outlets were invited to Trump Tower only to be admonished for less than ethical journalistic behavior during the presidential race. This was clearly an attempt to set the terms of the president-media relationship for the duration of his four-year term. That CNN had recently hosted a panel discussion about the veracity of the unverified 'dossier' published by Buzzfeed, was seemingly reason enough for the organisation to be singled out and made an example of for not adhering to stated expectations. It could just as easily been MSNBC, ABC, etc, it was just an accident of timing.

I agree that a president taking on the role of media disciplinarian is somewhat problematic with regard to the future of journalistic independence. This should not, however, be conveniently interpreted as the inevitable outcome of electing a despotic megalomaniac as president, but rather, the consequence of nobody else within civil society holding the mainstream media to account for not fulfilling their duty to the people for a very long time (with the exception of online communities, critics and media organisations, which I will return to in a moment). 

Academics are one such group which should be using their knowledge and status to call out the media for left, as as well as right leaning biases. This is more than likely linked to the fact that right-leaning bias in the media tends to be the favored topic of much research and commentary within the academic community. 

What is interesting to me is that media and communications academics, who largely accept Herman and Chomsky’s 1989 elaboration of how propaganda is produced by media as a consequence of being overly dependent on politicians as sources for their news stories, rarely express alarm at the cosy relationship the press enjoyed with Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. 

I do think that this is part of a broader problem within academics who tend to mix research and activism, and in previous posts I have demonstrated how this manifests in the propagation of anti-white racism (http://screenvslife.blogspot.com.au/2017/01/only-whites-can-be-racist-debunking.html and http://screenvslife.blogspot.com.au/2017/01/anti-white-racism-product-of-academic.html). 

The meteoric rise of online media and commentators, from The Young Turks to Infowars, Salon to Breitbart, Wikileaks to Freedomain Radio, indicates that the public is savvy to the misinformation propagated by mainstream media and are actively looking to diversify their sources of news to better inform themselves. 

Trump’s explicit use of the term ‘fake news’ was again, clearly strategic insofar as it appropriated the attack deceitfully contrived by mainstream media to discredit these increasingly influential web-based competitors. In calling CNN out as fake news Trump turned the charge back on journalists to highlight the hypocrisy of mainstream media organizations who are consistently being caught out for their lack of journalistic integrity. 

Ultimately, the fact that online sources for news and political commentary continues to proliferate foregrounds claims that the Trump presidency poses an imminent threat to democratic engagement, freedom of the press, and first amendment rights, is considerably overblown.

And this is not to excuse Trump from his own hypocrisy. As Philip DeFranco pointed out, Trump has a recurring tendency to willfully misrepresent the scale of most issues that he discusses. Ninety-six million unemployed Americans was one such claim made at the very same press conference, and he did himself no favors by hyperbolically invoking America-as-Nazi Germany, a strategy no less crass and dishonest than when leveled by progressives insisting that “Trump is literally Hitler”.

Join the conversation, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


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