BY SABRINE BRISMEUR
Chewing gum furiously and launching conference podiums at reporters, Melissa McCarthy’s portrayals of press secretary Sean Spicer parodied the relationship between the new administration and the press.
Yet despite the laughter of Saturday Night Live’s weekly audience, the real-life toxicity holds immense repercussions for the American public.
“Even with the current back-and-forth conflict with the current administration, the media represents the check which is so central to the ideals of America,” senior Jesse Klauber said. “The media still serves the purpose upon which it was founded, and it is undoubtedly a viable and central part of our nation and society.”
President Trump’s relationship with American media has been tense at best since he began campaigning, and his distaste for journalists exploded during the first week of his presidency in the wake of several controversial Executive Orders, press releases, and comments. His platform has been accused of providing often disproven falsehoods — ones that the media is quick to point out, criticize, and occasionally harp on.
Admittedly, mainstream media has been particularly tough on the newly elected president. Over 240 editorial boards publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton during the election season. But a mere 19 daily papers threw their support behind Trump (compared to Mitt Romney’s 105 in 2012), while 63 chose to endorse no one during the midst of the most controversial election in modern times, according to an article from Business Insider.
Though most editorial boards historically supported Republicans, a lack of endorsements from both parties, combined with overwhelming coverage from the left (the majority of mainstream publications are liberal) resulted in a campaign season and subsequent election that kept Trump on a tight leash.
Cooper City High School’s journalism organizations, most notably the Lariat and Cowboy Television Broadcast (CTV), cover events in politics regularly, and many student journalists have been shocked by the aggressive clash between the two.
“It’s definitely a lot. At this point, it’s a while past the election, but the media is talking about Trump almost constantly,” broadcast journalist Lexi Delgado said. “But it makes sense. People are fighting back [against controversial White House actions] and the press is covering that.”
The Trump administration’s dislike of the press is obvious, from considering moving journalists from a White House press room to rejecting requests to have a press pool follow him around the White House as President-Elect. At his first CIA meeting, Trump said that he was in a “running war with the media,” and that journalists were “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” after a clash concerning inauguration crowd size. At a rally last year, Trump said he would like to “open up” libel laws in order to make it easier to sue publications which wrote “purposely negative and horrible and false articles.”
English teacher Fallan Patterson, a former employee for the South Florida newspaper the Sun Sentinel, expressed reservations concerning any silencing of the press coming from any party.
“The media is the watchdog of the government and as such, have a difficult and thankless job,” she said. “If politicians are happy with the media’s job, then reporters aren’t doing their job correctly. To suggest members of the media should be silenced or threatened with lawsuits if they report on something truthful but unfavorable about any government official, including the president, is unconstitutional.”
In particular, Trump has made it clear on his Twitter account that he has personal issues with various specific media outlets, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. After a scuffle with CNN regarding coverage on unverified documents about the president’s connection to Russia, Trump refused to answer any questions from CNN journalist Jim Acosta.
“Not you. Your organization is terrible,” Trump said, repeatedly speaking over Acosta. “I’m not going to give you a question; you are fake news.”
The shots at news organizations from Trump’s administration, however, grew increasingly worrying and less amusing (“Well, I say the US offered us an alternative election!”) as the first week of Trump’s presidency went by, with Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, sending a subtle threat to the media during an interview with the New York Times.
“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” he said, adding, “The media here is the opposition party.”
Suddenly, alternative facts weren’t so funny.
Coming from a top advisor to Trump, such an attack on the media is dangerous – especially considering that the current administration denounces reports that portray Trump in a negative light, regardless of whether they are true or not (Trump recently tweeted that any “negative” polls about him were “fake news,” suggesting that any opposition to him must be false).
Though it is true that the majority of Americans do not trust the media (only 32%) according to a 2016 poll from GallUp, what is more interesting is that a mere 14% of Republicans find the press truthful — an 18% decrease from last year.
Trump’s war on American mainstream media has contributed to a paradigm shift within his right-wing supporters, who are not represented in mainstream media as much as their liberal counterparts. It makes sense that Republicans are frustrated with the inordinate amount of liberal bias in the media and want to see “straight news stories” with no author opinion included.
“Just like Republicans have a large economic presence, Democrats tend to have a large media presence,” Klauber said. “It used to be that being objective was an expected, major part of journalism. But in the last few decades, people who are writing the information establish their own beliefs as factual.”
The manner in which the administration has treated mainstream media, though popular with the right, has created a distrust of reputable news sources. Truthfully, no publication is without bias, even if they just publish hard news.
High school papers are the exception. Though their publications don’t generally expect any lawsuits from the President of the United States, articles in many schools go through intensive prior review in order to reduce bias as much as possible. In a school of several hundred kids or more, maintaining a balance in opinion is essential. Whether the reason is to avoid upsetting students or angering parents, prior review seems to work.
But for mainstream media, the agenda or spin is typically clear, from where editors choose to place their stories, to the articles they publish. Reputable American media such as that of the National Public Radio (NPR) and overseas publications like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reveal liberal bias. Bias doesn’t have to mean it is unreputable, though it does mean it is unappealing.
Broadcast student journalist Jacob Wolk, who is particularly active in the political sphere of CTV, commented that despite student journalists not being the target of the administration, it remains concerning.
“The actions of the current administration are very alarming to all types of journalists,” Wolk said. “It’s one thing to engage in open and respectful debate about policy, but the way Trump [and the administration] has handled this has crossed the line. To attack specific journalists and news organizations creates a scary scenario for us.”
On both sides, the administration’s ongoing war with the media encourages citizens to block out any valuable information coming from reputable yet biased news sources and look to publications that only publish what they want to see, leading to an increase in the consumption of “fake news.” As a result, a culture of ignorance is bred. Trump’s encouragement to reject the media is therefore uniquely dangerous.
“As journalists, it is our job to report the facts, no matter the implications,” added Wolk. “It’s our duty to allow the public to be informed.”
Before anything else, the media’s job has always been present to fact check and gather various perspectives. Journalists are the watchdogs for the people, investigating scandals and questioning any controversial actions from the government. The media should never “keep its mouth shut” because it is a vital public service that has the ability to keep politicians and others in check – regardless of their party affiliation.
In the 1970s, whistleblowers and journalists were behind the exposure of the Watergate scandal and the government’s role in expanding the Vietnam War. At this time, public trust in the media was at an all time high — 72%, in fact. The press was servicing the people, and Americans were thankful for the truth.
Regaining public trust is a near impossible task, considering that household name, reputable conservative publications are few and far between. Rightly so, the right is sick and tired of mainstream journalists allowing their own values to seep into news stories, without conceding their own beliefs and giving the straight facts.
Constant coverage (often truthful but certainly negative) and analysis of Trump has led to a stand-off between the president and the press.
Mistakes from mainstream news sources – such as CNN’s coverage of unverified documents and Time’s mistaken reporting about a removed bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. – have only aided in pitting the administration and the press against each other.
But in an era where “alternative facts” can be true, mainstream media cannot do their job without being attacked for it or threatened with a libel suit. When the president of the United States says in a 60 Minutes interview that he would “use Twitter to [fight] back” any time a news outlet published ‘a bad story’ about him, journalists are understandably alarmed.
Silencing, intimidating, and threatening the media is unacceptable, and journalistic integrity should not stand for it. It only encourages divisions between the American public, and results in increasing demand for fake news. The media’s job is to report facts, expose falsehoods, and question controversy — when they cannot do their job, it is a disservice to the public.
American press, however, must work to earn public trust again, even if it will never be regained completely. Publications will always be biased in some manner, but the way news is structured can help remediate that.
Perhaps mainstream media needs to take a page out of the handbooks and policies of American high schools, and actively clean and cut their work to ensure their news section is as balanced as possible.
As for professional journalists, they should hold the government accountable without an angle, ensure accuracy in news, invite an equal division of party speakers on broadcast programs, and above all else, not give the administration a reason to attack.
The American press should never be the “opposition party” — journalism exists to expose the truth for the benefit of the American people.
Regardless, the press should be prepared for the president’s response, but in the same breath, Trump should expect controversy from the press when he makes controversial decisions.
In the end, the press is for the people — not the president.