by G. Brown
President-elect Donald Trump’s first news conference in six months didn’t seem like much to get excited about since Trump manages daily coverage in one form or another in the mainstream media. So who knew Trump would come unhinged (OK, that part is a given) over the media(boom-there’s the bombshell).
Trump declared all out war on “fake news” after BuzzFeed released an unverified 35-page dossier supposedly compiled by a former British intelligence official alleging the president-elect’s ties to Russia. Trump called BuzzFeed “a failing pile of garbage” and refused to take a question from a CNN reporter dismissing the network as “fake news“. Both BuzzFeed and CNN ran stories on the dossier full of unsubstantiated claims that Russia has both personal and financial information that is compromising….very compromising. One of the most damaging claims is vile, salacious and disturbing. It involves hatred for President Obama, a hotel room and what’s jokingly been dubbed “Golden Shower-gate”. You can read the 35-page dossier here.
BuzzFeed says it was releasing the document on the principle of Americans have a right to know and can make up their own minds about whether to believe none, some or all of it. ‘The right to know’ is part of the foundation of journalism. It’s part of that keystone of democracy which gives us the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
But now a new narrative under Trump is being communicated. This idea of “fake news” is catching fire and the term is being used to classify every group that says or writes something those in power don’t agree with. BuzzFeed is not so much mainstream media as it is a social media and cultural site full fun, hip content. Most people don’t run to the site for news as substantiated by the fact tank Pew Research Center study which showed that the majority of Americans consider BuzzFeed “an unreliable source” for news.
It’s one thing to call BuzzFeed “fake news”—but CNN? Seriously?! Sure there are stories that CNN, NBC, all of the networks and major papers run that we disagree may be news worthy at times, but CNN is a legitimate news source. If there’s anything we’ve learned when it comes to Trump, what he says today become’s tomorrow’s chant repeated by devoted followers much like “build that wall” and “lock her up”.
So Trump is playing victim to “fake news” now, but when he led the “fake news” charge of the birther movement against President Obama, his freedom of speech was protected, expected and repeated. The hypocrisy of it all overshadows a deeper threat. If Trump is able to control and censor the media, democracy suffers. Would America ever have known about President Nixon and Watergate if not for the heroic journalism of Woodward and Bernstein? Is America following in the paths of countries like the Philippines where President Rodrigo Duterte said “just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch” in response to a reporter who was shot and killed in Manila.
“Fake news” would be rumors that go viral on FaceBook and Twitter. Or what we see from Alex Jones and his “Info Wars”–but since he’s a friend of Trump’s, he apparently gets a pass as legitimate. An error, a mistake doesn’t mean CNN its fake–it means a mistake. But if Trump can censor and control the media–if the journalists who are the gatekeepers of information and whose job is to tell the public everything–if journalists are manipulated, bound and threatened, then what about the rest of the people. Voices will be silenced, ideas not allowed to flow and democracy and freedom dies. Columnist Frida Ghitis once said, “…when a president is elected, if the people are not free to criticize him and his policies, then democracy is a mirage–and so is freedom.”
If Trump can ban and censor what the free press can say, how long before your FaceBook post or tweet gets you thrown in jail?
What do you think…was BuzzFeed wrong for releasing the dossier? Is Trump being treated unfairly by the media and the victim of a “witch hunt”? What do you consider “fake news”?