Let me start by saying my own experience with the press has not been great. I was an administrative law judge, presiding over a politically explosive case (Shoreham nuclear power plant), when a reporter insisted on publishing an injudicious comment I’d begged him to treat as off-the-record.* The subsequent repercussions made newspaper headlines. I survived, but this was not fun.
President Trump made war on the press throughout his campaign. It continues. On Saturday, his press spokesman, Sean Spicer, in the White House press room, launched an angry tirade against the media for reporting (correctly) that inaugural attendance was lower than Obama’s; and Trump himself marred an event honoring fallen CIA officers by declaring journalists “are among the most dishonest human beings on earth.”
This from the man who falsely insisted New Jerseyites cheered 9/11; that he couldn’t release his tax returns because they’re under audit; that he’d discussed his wall idea while meeting Mexico’s president; that his election was “the greatest single victory in the history of politics;” that he never committed any of the sexual assaults against women that he’d bragged about; that all the women were lying; who spearheaded false “birtherism” and then lied that he was the one who ended it; and so on, and on, and on, and sickeningly on.
The administration has now even coined a neologism: “alternative facts.” So when Spicer falsely stated “this was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration — period,”** that was just an “alternative fact.” In an alternative universe. Where everybody is a liar — except Trump and his stooges, of course.
In the Trump universe, the media is out to get him. Well, you know what? They are. And why? Because they see the truth — that he’s a scumbag con man, the most brazen liar ever to pollute American public life. They tried to tell us before the election, but voters — enough of them, anyway — refused to hear it. So now we have a disgraceful administration for which falsification is actually policy, and exposure of it is vilified.
People in news media have their human foibles and political biases. They are imperfect. But by and large they work hard to fulfill their basic mission, to report true facts and inform us about what is actually happening. Which is absolutely indispensable to a democracy’s functioning, with government accountable to voters. This contrasts with countries like Russia with no free media, it’s all government controlled, and the public is told only what the regime pleases, true or not (and often not). Unlike Russia, we still have a free news media that ferrets out the truth and holds politicians to account. But it’s threatened by Trump’s press-bashing and promotion of fake news.
In my own Shoreham case, I didn’t like what that reporter did. But he was right. The press did its job, and that was a good thing.
The choice between trusting America’s news media, or the serial compulsive liar in the White House, should be a no-brainer.
*I said I thought one party’s proposal was wrong.
**Today a contrite Spicer walked it back.