As Donald Trump would have it, “the media” are all dishonest. Each and every one of them. (Except, of course, the ones who report favorable things about him.)
Trump continually blasts the media, calling them all dishonest, and even singling-out specific journalists as the target of his vitriol. Trump continued with this theme—a winning one among his supporters—during his “victory tour” (heaven forbid he do a listening tour) yesterday in Ohio, during which he boasted about his win of the Electoral College and “[i]n apparent diversions from his teleprompter, he lashed the ‘dishonest’ media, jabbed Ohio Gov. John Kasich who refused to support him, crowed at his victory over Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton,” according to CNN.
He went on to complain further. The Guardian writes that “Trump also gave his usual tirade against ‘the dishonest media’ and expressed his displeasure that it took television networks until after midnight on election day to call his win in Pennsylvania. Trump went on to boast of his win in the electoral college, but not the popular vote: ‘We won in a landslide. We didn’t have the press, the press was brutal.'”
Another UK-based publication, The Daily Mail, adds that, “President-elect Donald Trump ridiculed ABC’s Martha Raddatz for supposedly ‘crying’ on election night as he settles scores with the media on I-told-you-so tour.”
Trump surprised no one in reverting to his usual self (BREAKING: Donald Trump Is Still Donald Trump), rallying his acolytes into a frothing frenzy of fear-based rage. The Los Angeles Times notes that his cheering, smug sycophants “booed the media when Trump criticized ‘the very dishonest press.'”
The crazy continued on social media, where the Trumpsters carried the torches and pitchforks into the internets, with tweets and posts like:
The dishonest MSM hates Trump speaking via social media because he can speak directly to Americans without their dishonest spin! #MAGA
WE THE PEOPLE deserve fair and non biased reporting. Not #FakeNews and one sided Liberal views.
There were 23,000 fake Trump votes in PA. So of course our media ignores this and instead shows Trump‘s entire speech. #DoYourJob
Oh, no! The media showed Trump’s entire speech! The entire speech? All of it? How could they? Damn media. So biased.
I just. don’t. even. …
Donald Trump, Man-Child, hasn’t held a press conference since July. This doesn’t seem to make nearly as much news as the media’s running tally of Hillary Clinton’s days-without-a-press-conference, which in August had reached 269 days, as Trump himself famously tweeted. That news fed into the media hype that Clinton is a secretive, conniving spin-doctor who doesn’t want to take any questions from the media.
This is exactly what Donald Trump, Full-Size Toddler, is doing: not taking any questions from the media. (By the way: the Trump-no-press-conference tally stands at about 130 days.) With his unprecedented victory tour, Trump is able to pontificate in the venues he loves best: giant arenas filled with starry-eyed fans who cheer and shout and rage with him—giant arenas where he can say whatever he wants to adoring audiences, where he is never challenged on the facts, where he never has to answer any questions.
These events are covered like news, but they are not news. They are propaganda events during which Trump delivers lengthy, rambling orations that whip his supporters into a frenzy.
But they are, without a doubt, events that Trump has mastered. Along with social media, particularly Twitter, Trump has managed to press all the right buttons, firing up his base and sparking tirades amongst his detractors. Both sides are in a Trump Tizzy.
The right blames the liberal media, the elite liberal media, the corrupt liberal media, the alt-left media, the dishonest media—which, of course, is all one and the same. Meanwhile, the left blames conservative media and alt-right news. And everyone seems to complain about fake news, which appears to be not only a pack full of lies and gossip and rumor and innuendo in general, but also any news that you disagree with.
Everyone—right, left, middle, unaffiliated—wants to blame the media. For everything. For covering Trump in ways they don’t like. For not covering Trump enough. For continually covering Clinton with bias and bile. For not covering Clinton enough.
It is all the media’s fault.
Except … what is the media?
Decades ago, “the media” referred largely to ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS as well as newspapers around the country: The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, and so on. Ted Turner launched CNN on June 1, 1980, and thus began the proliferation of cable news: Fox News, MSNBC, BBC World, CNBC, Bloomberg Television, etc., etc. Blogs started changing everything in the mid-1990s. By the early 2000s, blogs were everywhere—and they were changing the definition of “media.” Then came social media with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so forth. Such that, today, “the media” is a tangled web of news and information and gossip and rumor and innuendo and outright lies.
So prevalent is “the media” that we now live in a world where we can choose to read whatever we like—and most of us choose to read what we already believe, finding those information sources that confirm our already-existing opinions, regardless of whether those opinions have any basis in reality.
These echo chambers are doing none of us any good. But this whole “blame the media” thing goes beyond the willful habitation of echo chambers. It speaks also to the lack of judgment, the lack of discernment, the lack of understanding of what real journalism is. The lack of understanding of the differences between journalism and op/ed writing and blogging and propagandizing and advertising. Because they have all blended into one.
Tweets promote stories that appear to be actual news. Blog posts on well-designed websites appear to be factual journalism. Advertorials blur the lines between PR and reporting. Op/ed pieces and columns are confused with news articles.
It seems few of us can tell the difference anymore between opinion and fact. And, perhaps worse, many people believe that anything written in any form in any media outlet is at least half-full of lies. Unless, of course, you believe those half-lies to be true—facts be damned.
While Donald Trump, Crybaby-in-Chief, complains about the dishonest, failing media every time a piece of reporting appears that seems to show him in a bad light (which isn’t difficult), many people are shouting their own complaints just as loudly. Trouble is, neither Trump nor these other folks seems able to tell the difference between news and opinion—or even between fact and fiction.
Thus the rise of fake news, which has gotten Facebook and other outlets in a world of trouble. Fake news and, frankly, bullshit, spread across the internets like Zika or Ebola—some kind of plague at any rate, spreading the disease of disinformation far and wide.
Should we blame this disease on “the media”? Or should we take the blame ourselves? At least some of the blame?
Heck, yeah, we should.
When voters can’t determine the difference between factual reporting and quality journalism versus opinion-laden blog posts and propaganda pieces, we must blame ourselves.
Just like crappy TV exists on 189 channels because we keep watching crappy TV, fake news sites and irresponsible media outlets exist because we keep reading fake news stories and irresponsible writing. We have to blame ourselves for perpetuating bad TV, fake news, and irresponsible media outlets.
When every schmuck with a blog (like me, I suppose) considers herself a journalist (well, I did graduate cum laude with a degree in journalism, so … just sayin’), and people keep reading blog posts that masquerade as quality reporting, we have to shoulder at least part of the blame for the existence of blogs that purport to be news when really they’re just opinion—entertaining opinion, but opinion nonetheless.
Just like we binge on junk food and then complain about queasy tummies, we binge on information and then complain when we feel sick about it.
I like to say “eat like crap, feel like crap.”
To that I’d like to add “read like crap, vote like crap.”
When we binge on fevered rallies, when we binge on propaganda, when we binge on fake news, when we mistake memes for news, when we live in echo chambers, when we distrust every media outlet except for the ones we agree with, we have only ourselves to blame when elections—at any level, local, state, or federal—don’t turn out the way we might like. Because it is our responsibility to be informed, educated readers. Because it is our responsibility to understand the difference between fact and fiction. Because it is our responsibility to cry foul when we read posts or tweets that contain spurious information.
Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.
I didn’t say that. FDR said that. More than seven decades ago. And it still holds true today.
Donald Trump can blame the media for … well, whatever, because he seems to blame the media for everything when anything doesn’t go his way. His supporters can blame the media for what they believe to be dishonest, one-sided coverage. Others can blame the media for failing to cover what they see as important. We can all blame the media for … well, for something, apparently.
Because it’s easier to blame the media for everything—for anything, for something—than it is to blame ourselves for being indiscriminate readers of information rather than discerning students of quality reporting.
But blaming the media isn’t going to get us very far. Politicians have been blaming the media since the dawn of the Republic. “As far back as 1796, George Washington explained his decision not to seek a third term noting, among other reasons, he was ‘disinclined to be longer buffeted in the public prints by a set of infamous scribblers.'”
So we can keep blaming the media, or we can take some responsibility. We can whine about the press, or we can choose to educate ourselves. We can continue to live in echo chambers, or we can take the time to investigate other points of view. Because whining, complaining, and placing blame elsewhere does no one any good. In doing so, we absolve ourselves of the responsibility to safeguard democracy by educating ourselves.
I choose to educate myself, to push beyond the echo chambers, to stop blaming the media.
Will you join me?