… something is rotten in the state of America!
“One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution;
one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”
~ George Orwell, 1984
The truth is hard to come by. These days, truth about current events, the state of the U.S. government and its various controversial machinations have become particularly difficult to obtain. Throughout U.S. history the idea of a “free press” has been the corner stone of an informed public. If we do not gain information—”truth”—through the news media, how can we ever know what is actually going on around us?
A Call for More Investigative Journalism
Traditionally, White House news briefings have provided news agencies—which is to say, us—with direct access to the President. February 2017 exclusions of major news outlets from such a briefing as well as alleged false statements from White House press secretary Sean Spicer have caused some to wonder if investigative reporting might be the only viable means of obtaining news related to actions of the U.S. government. A specific appeal was voiced in a recent article that appeared in truthdig.
(White House press secretary Sean Spicer)
The ever widening divide between the executive branch of the U.S. government and the news media has become a major problem. Previous decades found journalists bridging this gap when the need arose. Yet now it appears something is broken in American journalism. For fiscal reasons, many major news outlets (particularly print media) have largely curtailed the practice of news-worthy investigations that manage to bare what some might attempt to conceal. Yet given the state of media relations in the U.S., a “receptive” approach to news gathering may no longer serve the goal of maintaining an informed public. An era of “alternative facts” seems to cry out for a return to more vigorous, independently probative journalism despite economic constraints.
Beyond “Fake News”
Expanding this issue further, if we cannot rely on investigative reporting to pierce the protective moat the “fake news” meme has begun to erect around the current administration, where might we get any information about what is going on in Washington, D.C. and its relation to ourselves and the rest of the world?
(Photo: Getty Images)
At the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) gathering in February 2017, Mr. Trump said “I am against the people that make up stories and make up sources. They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name”. Aside from the impracticality of reporting that cannot maintain the anonymity of confidential sources of information, Mr. Trump seems to have no qualms about himself making statements without any identified sources or, at best, vague references to “people are saying”. Indeed, on March 4th, the current President tweeted allegations regarding what he deemed “illegal” wiretapping by the Obama administration. However, he offered no evidence in support of these statements. As of March 20, 2017, not only has no evidence surfaced to support the current Loser President’s claims, but FBI Director Comey formally testified before Congress that the FBI has no information to support claims of wiretapping. In the absence of any corroborating evidence, do not statements like those of the president constitute “fake news”?
Regardless of political leaning, how can we determine what constitutes “fake news”? Any statement purporting to present “news” should rely on facts from some source (identified or not). Who is to objectively adjudicate the validity of “facts”? After declaring the media “the enemy of the American people“, this current president appears to be headed in the direction of establishing himself as “the” source of truth. Republican Representative Lamar Smith, from the floor of the House, even went so far as to say “Better to get your news directly from the President. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.” The result, of course, becomes consensus by presidential decree.
Furthermore, is the information that comes out of the White House credible? A March 17, 2017 debacle by the current administration indicates the relative untrustworthiness of the Trump administration and their declarative messages. The White House sends out a daily newsletter purporting to give the general public (president approved) executive branch news. Attempting to support the president’s proposed budget, the newsletter linked to a Washington Post article for validation. While the article includes statements like “Trump’s budget makes perfect sense and will fix America…”, as it turns out, the article was actually a satire by Alexandra Petri meant not to support but to ridicule the president’s budget. So much for trusting the White House to “get it right”.
State-sponsored News Media?
(Photo-illustration by theDailyBeast)
Against the backdrop of sketchy pronouncements from the White House, consider the on-off relational bond between the current Loser President, Breitbart-connected Steve Bannon and former Fox News executive Roger Ailes. As early as August 2016, speculation surfaced regarding the potential for a new conservative news outlet driven by the Trump-Bannon-Ailes trinity. From articles in The New Yorker and Alternet to more recent queries as appeared in Media Village, some are beginning to wonder what might be on the horizon with regard to U.S. political news. (This notion of a media agency configured by this trio does not take into account the possible rift between the three, at least between Trump and Ailes. Even without Ailes, the complementary goals and operational strategies of Trump and Bannon should be a serious concern for all freedom loving people).
It Can’t Happen Here
With a possible threat of executive branch preemption of more traditional news outlets, with public opinion primed by the indoctrinating meme “fake news”, and Steve Bannon’s expression of the current administration’s urging the news media to “keep its mouth shut”, what do you think might be the next media-related tactic by the current administration? Once the President declares war on the press, can some sort of “state sponsored news” be far behind?
Could a “state-run”, White House-controlled news outlet come to dominate and control the official “news of the land”? Perhaps and perhaps not. “That could never happen here!” you say. Why? What is to prevent such an occurrence? Is the institution of a public forum with goals similar to the former Committee on Public Information (CPI or Creel Committee) so far-fetched? That the current administration might structurally extend the position of Press Secretary to a presidential-administered “information” institution does not suggest the abolition of so-called “mainstream media (MSM). However, it does suggest that the establishment of an entity which dispenses “official” information from the White House could significantly alter the opinion of a large swath of the American public. Just listen to the crowd in the CPAC video above or recall the chants at the Republican convention.
“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” ~Voltaire
To the extent to which a crowd can be whipped into a frenzy around a manipulative phrase (like “lock her up!”, “fake news”, “dishonest media” or “sieg heil”), just so can the strength of public currents move the apparent sanity of conventional mores toward inhuman fanaticism.
Most of us lack investigative skills. But if we are to be informed citizens, perhaps we each need to do our part, taking personal responsibility for the “news” we receive. Current media-related issues do warrant a return toward more investigative journalism. But current events also suggest a need for our doing some level of investigation on our own. Before we bandy about our pet opinions, before we spread socio-political ideas to those around us, and before we lend our support to elected official, perhaps we need to work a bit harder in determining the nature of the “truth”. Rather than reading one or two sources, try five or six, some from different perspectives. Instead of remaining consumers, perhaps we should take a more active role in seeking our own sources of “truth”.
If you are interested in a more in-depth understanding of the issue of the plight investigative journalism and its viability as an option for the maintenance of an informed public, take a look at the book Democracy’s Detectives: The Economics of Investigative Journalism by James T. Hamilton.