Tuesday, February 28, 2017

President Trump's attacks on our media should be of concern to all of us

President Trump's attacks on our media should be of concern to everyone
By:  Michael Lander

The greatness of the United States of America comes not from
one, but from the many, united in resolve and committed to
the rights and freedoms of all, to include a free and
independent press.

It would be impossible for anyone to argue that the mass media has become nothing short of public enemy number one. 

In just the first five weeks of President Trump’s administration, he, and his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, have targeted the media, describing them as an enemy of the American people. 

The president has not even come close to saying anything like that, even about our Cold War adversaries, and has, in fact, been much more friendly to the Russians, and to their leader, Vladimir Putin, than he has yet to be with most of those within our own media. 

There has never been a time in our nation’s history when the media has been under such an attack by a president and it appears to far and away exceeded anything that has ever occurred, even during the embattled administration of Richard M. Nixon. 

It was during Nixon's administration that the media exposed what had happened at Watergate, and the subsequent attempt of the administration to cover it up, which ultimately led to Nixon’s downfall and his unceremonious resignation on Aug. 9, 1974.

While the current attack on the media, and the combative relationship that President Trump currently has with it, may be completely unprecedented, an onslaught of criticism and accusations are not anything that the media is exactly unfamiliar with.

Ever since our country was founded, members of the press, (because of the nature of their job), have had to endure times when they have been maligned, hated, accused of being biased, untrustworthy, or any other manner of things.

Even though the work of media has not always been easy and well-received, things have recently been taken to a whole new and disturbing level when the president, himself, has now engaged in attacks of the press, as well. 

As a man who is the leader of our nation and who, in many ways represents the free world, he should be the leading champion of the rights and freedoms that we have in our country, extolling our virtues and ideals, and the important role that a free and independent press plays in helping to ensure that it remains that way.

Instead, for whatever reasons that he might have, the president seems to be attempting to undermine, to subvert, to oppress, and to delegitimize the media by accusing it of lying, creating “fake news,” and labeling it as the “opposition party” and the “enemy of the American people.”

The accusation that the media routinely lies is especially ironic since he and his White House staff have seemed to have already earned a reputation of being fast and loose with the truth, and for giving us a new way to describe things that are false by simply referring to them as alternative facts.”

Whatever the president’s motives might be for this, the role of the free press is, first and foremost, to serve the American people. 

They do this by seeking to inform, to enlighten, to get to the facts and to the truth, to distill complex issues and to present them in a way that everyone can understand.

They also provide a check and balance to those in power, to help ensure accountability, to act as an intermediary between the rich and powerful and those who are neither, to serve in an adversarial role, when necessary, and to not always say what people may want to hear, but what they need to hear. 

Because of what the media does, they can be an extremely powerful weapon and, as such, it has often been referred to as the fourth branch of government (or the fourth estate) since it serves to monitor the political process, ensuring that politicians don’t abuse the democratic process for their own benefit.

Since we may not ever know the reasons or intentions of the president in attacking the media, one can only speculate as to why he and others, in power, might ever be motivated to do this.

There are any number of possibilities that one can come up with as to why the media would be targeted, some of which may be more viable explanations than others.

Liberty is what we, as Americans, have long
revered, cherished, and embraced, but it only
has been guaranteed to us through a
steadfast commitment, sacrifice, and
defense of them for all Americans and
further ensured by a free and
independent press.

Some of these possibilities could be that the administration wants to control, intimidate, silence, or to alienate the media because it presents a threat to them and their agenda.

It could also easily be an effort to lessen the influence of the media, which may be providing information that runs counter to what they are hoping to accomplish or, if you ascribe to more conspiratorial motives, you could see this as a ploy to divert or to deflect attention away from themselves and what they are doing or not doing.

It is also possible to imagine that this could be a way for the administration to simply undermine the credibility and the trust of the media so that the public does not accept what the media is reporting. 

With that groundwork laid, the administration could then be better able to restrict the flow of information and to spin the news in the way that better serves their purposes.

Whatever the president and his administration’s intentions may or not be, the one thing that is certain is that not all criticism of the media is entirely unfounded.

Among some of the criticisms that are waged against the media today, some of the more frequent ones are that it tends: 
(1)  to focus on entertainment and celebrities, (what some refer to as infotainment), over true and impactful news stories, 
(2)  to report on the more sensational and attention-grabbing stories while under-reporting or ignoring those that might be more important to the people in their respective communities,
(3)  to rely far too much on anonymous sources or on sources that have an agenda, and
(4)  to be biased, whether intentional or not, in the who, what, when, where, why and how they report a news story.

One of the most prevalent accusations that have been waged against the media is that there is a liberal-leaning bias.   While there is some evidence to suggest that this does exist to some extent, other biases are often overshadowed because of this and they often go unnoticed.  

Click here to read about these other biases on News Bias Explored - The Art of Reading the News and Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting - How to Detect Bias in the News Media.

The one place where politically-driven bias can easily be found in the media is on television news networks, which seem to be audience-driven and are usually tailored specifically toward the political leanings of their audiences. 

This seems to influence the selection and the presentation of the news stories that are covered as well as other news-related programs, along with the commentary, that the various television networks carry.

Also, one of the biggest concerns of media watchdog groups is the limited number of corporations that control most of what we see, hear, and read.  These groups also point out that media organizations may be discouraged or prevented from investigating or reporting on anything that might negatively impact the financial interests of the corporations which owns them. 

In spite of the things that the media could improve upon, it does seem, for the most part, to do what it needs to do on the behalf of the public at large.

Most journalists are professionals who want to be accurate and truthful in their reporting, who want to follow and adhere to established guidelines in seeking out credible sources, following any leads, verifying, and corroborating any information that they receive.

They also try to conduct fact-checks, and they make an effort to present all sides of an issue, whenever possible, so that the audience or the reader can take in all of the information that is provided and to then decide for themselves what conclusions that they wish to draw from it.

Click her to read about what guidelines (Society of Professional Journalists) to which journalists follow and adhere.

Regardless of what we think about how journalists do their jobs, the press is protected, nonetheless, under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and there are no exceptions or caveats that are otherwise specified than their right to do so without government interference. 

Thomas Jefferson once said that our liberty depends on the freedom of the press and an independent press is essential for a functioning democracy. 

Click on these links to read more about the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press from Lincoln University and more about it from the New World Encyclopedia and the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

We might not always like what we hear or read, but the American people should always be concerned whenever there is an attack on the freedom of speech or the freedom of the press since, in the end, it ultimately is an attack on us all.

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