Haggie Partners

A perspective on Donald Trump and his contentious war with the news media

By Colette La Pointe @HaggiePartners

Since announcing his intention to run for president of the United States, President Trump’s relationship with the press has been one of marked conflicts. This rocky relationship came to a head last week in Trump’s 17 February tweet, in which he accused the New York Times, CNN and NBC News among others, of being “fake news media” and the “enemy of the American people”.

This is not the first time Trump has accused the media of reporting fake news. In August 2016 he sent a fundraising email asking supporters to “help me fight back against the dishonest and totally biased media” and on a separate occasion called journalists “the worst people”. His view is echoed throughout his inner circle. Press secretary Sean Spicer has continually criticised journalists for negative coverage and conducts press briefings filled with underlying cynicism and contempt for the attending journalists.

Trump’s relationship with the media is reminiscent of a former president; President Nixon also entered into a contentious war with the press, and like Trump believed they were “distorted”, and pursuing a vendetta against him. However, despite Nixon’s anger, resentment and attempts to silence them, his presidency was a defining moment of triumph for the American media and an example of how essential journalism is to society. Although the American government deserves the bulk of the credit for unearthing the Watergate burglary, the media played a critical role in exposing and, more importantly, communicating the rampant corruption in the Nixon administration to the public. This has always been the role of the media: to expose, inform, and educate.

This seems lost on Trump and his team. In Spicer’s first press briefing he lambasted the media for their “challenging” and demanded that they write about Senate Democrats stalling the nomination of Mike Pompeo and “playing politics with national security” instead of criticising the inauguration and Trump. But what is the point of a media that does not challenge? And how can we boast a “free press” if we dictate what they can and can’t write about?

From the beginning Trump and his team have approached their relationship to the media as an adversarial one, labelling them “the opposition party”. So it is not surprising he considers them the enemy. However, it does not mean that they are the enemy of the American people. Journalism has proved to be a far from perfect profession; we all remember the News International phone hacking scandal for example. However, the Guardian’s Nick Davies relentless efforts to expose News International’s illegal activities is not only an example of journalism at its best, but evidence that the media can hold itself to an ethical standard. If a good journalist smells corruption, he/she will investigate even their own.

At its best the media serves as a friend to the public and a watchdog that seeks to bring truth and injustice to the surface. The media give a voice to those who would be silenced. That the first amendment to the Constitution reads…

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances”

…demonstrates its importance to the American nation. What does it say about a president who considers the nation’s truth-seekers to be his enemy?

Thus far Trump has not proved his great conspiracy of false reports. We are living in turbulent times, and that is when journalism has the greatest power to make a difference. We can only hope that the media continues to show the strength and resilience they have thus far, and to keep up the same standard of ethical and accurate reporting.

To quote veteran journalist Dan Rather: “To my fellow journalists… Keep doing your job. Your country depends on your service. Courage.”

The views expressed in this blog are that of American expat and account executive Colette La Pointe. They do not necessarily correspond with those of Haggie Partners LLP.

 


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