January 26, 2018 — On Wednesday, Jan. 17, President Trump rolled out his self-hyped “Fake News Awards.” He did it through the official GOP website and attempted to capitalize upon it by having a “donate” option.
The winners were…immaterial, actually. Because there are no winners in a situation like this.
The Fake News Awards were an open attack, by the sitting president, on the First Amendment. The same man who claimed for years that Barack Obama was from Kenya (he isn’t), who doubled and tripled down on having a massive inauguration crowd (it wasn’t), who made more than 2,000 false or misleading claims in his first year of the presidency alone, is lashing out at the media because they reported upon those discrepancies and more.
Presidents are heavily scrutinized. Perhaps it does seem unfair. The media did, after all, seem to lose its mind when former President Obama wore a tan suit. They had a heyday when George W. Bush made a slip of the tongue. It’s part of the job. No president has had a personal affection for the media. Each one has felt they were unfairly scrutinized. But before now, each one—except for Richard Nixon—had a great respect for the media, and the role that the media plays in society and democracy.
And if something is reported incorrectly, which happens, the President and his White House are well within their rights to demand a retraction and correction and even an apology – if they can provide proof that something was reported incorrectly.
But shouting “fake news!” in order to drown out the truth simply because the truth doesn’t look good isn’t a viable solution. This isn’t how this works.
What the president is doing is damaging to democracy. If, through voicing his displeasure, or threatening to somehow litigate the media, he is attempting to silence the media because he doesn’t find the news personally flattering, this is a serious matter. The media functions as the watchdog of the public. The media is supposed to inform the public of what the president is doing, and if the president is playing golf, or dismantling the Affordable Care Act, or granting tax cuts, or kissing babies and playing with puppies, that’s news simply because he is the President of the United States.
If what the media is reporting is upsetting, it shouldn’t be the media that gets criticized for what it’s reporting, but leadership for what they are doing.
The media is the fourth pillar of democracy. It upholds that democracy and demands accountability. It is designed to inform, to give the public what the public needs in order to form opinion and act accordingly. It is, by no means, perfect.
It is, however, necessary. And it is under attack.