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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Trump, media fuel public's cynicism when they should be ending it

Monday was Presidents Day. Or "Not My President's Day," depending on one's point of view. But is Donald Trump's treatment of the media really dangerous — or even unique? (Photo by The Associated Press)
Monday was Presidents Day. Or "Not My President's Day," depending on one's point of view. But is Donald Trump's treatment of the media really dangerous — or even unique? (Photo by The Associated Press)
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Monday, February 20, 2017 09:01 pm
According to a new Fox News poll, just 45 percent of Americans have more trust in the truthfulness of an administration led by a new president indifferent to facts than in journalists supposedly trained and dedicated to accuracy and objectivity. Whether that is due to President Donald Trump's continued bashing of the media as the "enemy of the American people" or the media's hysterical response probably depends upon one's political point of view. "That's how dictators get started," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., warned this week after the latest tirade from the man who as a candidate somehow felt compelled to demean Naval pilot McCain's heroism in Vietnam. "If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I'm afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties."

McCain is right about that much, at least. The founders' desire to prevent the government from eroding personal freedom explains why journalism is one of the few professions explicitly protected by the Constitution. But the now-tiresome insinuations that Trump somehow aspires to a scrutiny-free dictatorship are belied not only by his own stated commitment to a free press but by the same Fox poll's conclusion that 55 percent believe it's better for the country if the media "cover the president aggressively."

Trump's criticism of "fake news"

is transparently self-serving but resonates with Americans who recognize the fearless but fair journalism they want is too seldom delivered.

Wikileaks' documentation of collusion between journalists and Hillary Clinton's campaign has been followed since Inauguration Day by stories about alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow, the intelligence community's refusal to share information with the new president and plans to use the National Guard to enforce the Southern border — all of dubious accuracy (although it is refreshing to see that, after decades of romanticizing the Soviet Union, liberals have developed a mistrust of Russian dictators).

On the other hand, MSNBC's Chris Matthews was hardly unique in his admission that candidate Barack Obama gave him a "thrill going up my leg." A Pew Research Center poll has found that members of the American media are far more liberal than the nation as a whole, with 34 percent of the national press calling itself liberal and just 7 percent conservative.

Where the relative handful of conservative media were concerned, however, Obama was downright Trumpian. He regularly attacked Fox News, at one point chillingly suggesting "we're going to have to change how the media reports on these issues." He criticized talk radio and threatened journalists such as James Rosen of Fox News and Jim Risen of The New York Times. And, of course, President Bill Clinton infamously blamed talk radio for the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

The irony in the Trump blowback is that, when it comes to stifling free speech, no one does it better or more often than the political left — which used to condemn efforts to silence opponents as "McCarthyism" but today demands stores drop merchandise labeled "Trump," "safe spaces" on campuses and turns on even liberal icons like Bill Maher or musician Bono for daring to talk to conservatives.

But whether from the left or right, the attempt to silence opponents or the press poses danger. "Nothing can be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being poured into that vehicle," Trump told a cheering crowd Saturday in Florida, quoting Thomas Jefferson. But when 10 percent of Americans tell Fox they trust neither the president nor the media, such cynicism cannot be a good thing. What happens when a politician deserves support or the press uncovers a legitimate scandal?

That Fox News poll was predictably split along party lines, with 81 percent of Republicans trusting the administration over the media and 79 percent of Democrats preferring the media. But one important conclusion was bipartisan: 71 percent want Trump to be more careful with his words.

He could start by criticizing the media only when it is justified by specific actions. The media should do no less by doing everything humanly possible to curb its obvious biases in favor of factual journalism that holds all politicians equally accountable. Only then will Americans embrace something else that Jefferson said:

"The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right. Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.


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