February 26, 2017 by David K. Sutton
Fox News Seeded Trump’s ‘Fake News’ Paranoia
The Fox News and conservative talk radio war against the mainstream media seeded Donald Trump’s “fake news” paranoia. There is nothing new about politicians going after the news media, but Donald Trump takes this time-honored practice to an absurd level made possible by his uniquely narcissistic personality. When it comes to what people say about him, Trump has an uncontrollable obsession. And now he has a new tool for his bravado, anything less than flattery is “fake news.”
It’s perfectly conceivable Trump has fooled us all with “fake news” bluster constructed to discredit the media in advance of a series of yet to come presidential follies. It is a popular talking point among cable news pundits, and while I have my doubts Trump thinks that strategically, his war against the media is likely a page right out Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s playbook.
Fake news is really just a new name for the conservative-coined “lamestream media.” Conservatives have lamented the media for years. They have taken aim at The New York Times and other media outlets because these outlets report facts inconvenient to conservatism. They were discounting the mainstream media long before the term “fake news.” CNN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and other prominent news outlets might sometimes get it wrong, but when that happens they issue corrections. They are held accountable by the public as well as their own journalistic standards. Who holds Donald Trump accountable? When people call these news media outlets “fake news,” what they are telling you is the facts reported by these outlets do not sufficiently comport to a pre-existing, ideological-driven narrative. But facts should never bend to belief systems. Facts are facts, even if they disrupt a happy and isolated view of the world.
“Over the years, we’ve effectively brainwashed the core of our audience to distrust anything that they disagree with. And now it’s gone too far,” said John Ziegler, a conservative radio host, who has been critical of what he sees as excessive partisanship by pundits. “Because the gatekeepers have lost all credibility in the minds of consumers, I don’t see how you reverse it.”
Late last year, when we started hearing about “fake news,” the focus was on websites that purposely promoted false news as a means to drive traffic to their sites. Somewhere along the way, Donald Trump, and a large segment of conservatism adopted “fake news” as a means to discredit anything for which they disagree.
This does not mean the news media is perfect. The mainstream media often fixates on the scandalous and the “if it bleeds, it leads” sensational. Even while Donald Trump excoriates the news media as “the enemy of the people,” without the news media Donald Trump is not even a thing. Without the news media, Donald Trump never becomes the 45th president. The media acted as Donald Trump’s enabler in the run-up to election day, and no matter how much Donald Trump rages against it, the media is his opioid, and he is their’s. But even with that damning indictment of the news media, it still does nothing to diminish the essential role of a free press to democracy.
February 19th on Meet the Press, Senator John McCain said a free press is essential “to preserve democracy as we know it.” Adding, efforts to suppress a free press is “how dictators get started.”
There is a silver lining, with traditional media outlets like The New York Times experiencing a surge in digital and print subscriptions in the era of Trumpism. You can count me as one who has chosen to support traditional print journalism in an era of uncertainty. “Our digital subscriptions are going through the roof. Even print subscriptions are up. We’re a profitable company,” said New York Times executor editor, Dean Baquet. And the Washington Post’s newly revealed slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” seems a direct rebuke of Trump’s news media animosity, even if WaPo denies any connection between the new slogan and Trump.
The Trump administration is not fooling anyone, well except possibly Trump voters, who I hope to God are still clinging to some threads of reality. Although it appears the irony is lost on them, because everything Donald Trump says of the media could just as easily be said of him.
What is the end game here? For the average free-press-denouncing citizen of democracy, where do we go from here? On a rudimentary level, I can understand the desire for comforting news, but seriously, who is satisfied with that kind of self-delusion? We are all guilty of bias, but we are not all equally culpable here. Because when it comes to the institutions that make our modern and free society possible, there is a subset of our society that has nothing but contempt.