In the wake of three U.S. mass shootings in one week, President Trump is trying to place blame on "The Media."
Let's see. Where to start?
First, the media is not responsible for life and safety in our country. The government and law enforcement are. The press has a responsibility to report on what the government is doing, and to be as accurate as possible in its reporting. "The Media" that the president is referring to—generally reputable news outlets—do that. They are not responsible for people getting angry over what they're reporting, and they're definitely not responsible for anyone's violent actions.
Second, let's remember what "fake news" actually is. During the 2016 election, around 140 websites were discovered as being completely fake sites purporting to be U.S. political news outlets. They published false and misleading stories, fabricated off of headlines coming from the U.S. Some of them were run by teenagers in Macedonia. Many of them manufactured fear-mongering stories about Muslims and immigrants. They also made the website owners rich, because millions of people—the vast majority of them Trump supporters—bought it.
Those sites actually published "fake news." But the president quickly began applying the term "fake news" to real news outlets, and has succeeded in convincing his base to repeat that garbage for two-plus years.
When the president attacks "The Media" or refers to the "Fake News Media," he's made it clear he's not referring to actual-fake-news sites. He's also not talking about extremist, unreliable media outlets that in a reasonable era would be considered fringe, like InfoWars or Breitbart. No, he's referring to the most reputable, Pulitzer-winning journalistic outlets. He calls the New York Times fake news. He calls the Washington Post fake news. He even calls the right-leaning Wall Street Journal fake news.
Any media outlet that does not fawn over him and praise his every move is deemed "fake news."
In an unprecedentedly childish waste of time, the President of the United States—the supposed leader of the free world—even pulled together a "Fake News Awards" in 2018. His team actually took the time to find the small fraction of errors in mainstream media reporting—most of which were quickly corrected and acknowledged as corrected, as is the journalistic standard—and ranked them for these bogus "awards."
In any reasonable era, all of this would rightly be considered loony tunes.
Errors in news reporting is and has always been a thing. Newsrooms are made up of humans and humans make mistakes sometimes. Reputable sources issue corrections when that happens. That's what has always happened. That's what still happens with the major news outlets.
Meanwhile, the president himself shares and praises questionable and unreliable sources all the time. He shares extreme right-wing media outlets with questionable credentials like Judicial Watch. He tweets fake, racist (yes, objectively racist—take a look) statistics from fake sources without ever correcting them. He tells more falsehoods than any other political figure in the history of fact-checking—and that's not even an exaggeration.
He knows, because his intelligence agencies have told him so, that white supremacists have become more active in the past few years. He knows that white supremacists make up the majority of the domestic terrorism arrests (again, his own intelligence agencies). He knows that he shut down federal programs designed to counter extremist violence and removed funding from programs that help people leave racist hate groups. He knows that the shooter in El Paso drove nine hours to kill immigrants because the guy wrote a manifesto about white replacement. He knows that while he's tried to ban Muslims from entering the country, American-born white supremacists have walked into churches and synagogues and killed fellow Americans while they worship.
And today, he dares to blame the media for mass violence? No, sir. You don't get to do that.
Freedom of the press is enshrined in the first amendment of our Constitution, and yet the U.S. ranks 48th in the world in the World Press Freedom rankings. We've now dipped into the "problematic" range for press freedom, which is ridiculous. We are supposed to be "the land of the free" and yet journalists face daily attacks from the man who took an oath to uphold their constitutionally guaranteed right to report on what he does and says.
Related: I wrote a news headline that didn't even link to a story. Over 2,000 people commented on it anyway.
These attacks on the media matter. They not only sow distrust in journalism, but calling them "the enemy of the people" invokes in gullible people a patriotic duty to protect Americans from journalists. American journalists have been killed on our soil for doing their jobs, and according to Reporters Without Borders, the danger is growing: "Never before have U.S. journalists been subjected to so many death threats or turned so often to private security firms for protection."
The dangers that journalists face is unacceptable, but what frightens me more is the methodical drip, drip, drip of the president's words creating more and more distrust in legitimate reporting. Conspiracy theories about mainstream media have not only taken hold, but are being actively pushed by the President of the United States. Fear-mongering, calling the press "the enemy of the people," and sowing distrust for reputable sources of information is exactly how despots seize power. It's how atrocities are not only allowed, but encouraged. It's how great nations fall.
It's also classic gas lighting, and we cannot let it slide. The message is this: If you report on what I do and people don't like me because of it, you are 'fake news' and telling lies. If you report my exact words and people think I'm horrible, it's your fault that people think my words are horrible and therefore you're attacking me. If you aren't praising me for the things I'm claiming to have done, you are against me, which makes you against America, which makes you an enemy of the people.
It's like we're in a psychologically abusive relationship with our own president.
I can see that people are growing weary of fighting this battle all the time. I know I'm tired of it. If we were to call out the president every time he makes a false claim and attacks the wrong people, we'd burn out. The relentlessness is by design, to either make us give up or look like we're constantly overreacting. That's how gas lighting works. We can't give up.
The mainstream media is not the enemy. And history will not look kindly upon a president who uses the power of his platform to constantly attack the free press.
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