We’re halfway through the iconic presidential “100 Days.” Some of us are punch-drunk from the barrage of outrageous, un- and semi-hinged pronouncements from the White House. They numb us so that we may not fully hear what we’re being told. That’s dangerous.
Two White House statements especially need our complete attention. "The news media," the president keeps telling us, "is the enemy of the American people." And from his top strategist, this: "The media should keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while." The “while” wasn’t specified, but I think he means four to eight years.
Please re-read and reflect on the italicized words. My translation: “We now plan to cut you off from the information you need to hold us accountable.” They know (and if they didn’t before the massive pushback against ACA repeal, they do now) there’s no way to successfully defend their agenda for America. They also know that they don’t have to defend what we don’t know about. So choking off news sources becomes the decisive goal. That’s what nearly every ascending tyrant has tried to do since the first printing press cranked up, and they probably strangled town criers before then.
How do you crush the news? In some countries, troops simply blow up or seize newspaper, television and radio stations. In Russia they shoot or poison a bold journalist every month or so. I don’t see that coming — but then we’re living with plenty I didn’t see coming — and there’s no clear way to plug all the internet’s holes. There’s an alternative method: destroy what’s left of the media’s credibility until we choose the administration’s alternative facts over what journalists report to us. The italicized words above aren’t random tantrum fragments. They are as deliberate as rhetoric gets.
So is the president’s perfected technique of repetitive labeling. His primary opponent was always “Lyin' Ted.” Hillary’s name didn’t come out of his mouth (except when she was with him on a debate stage) without “crooked” in front of it. As ridiculously juvenile as that may have sounded, smart linguists and neurologists say that it worked.
So now “news media” always carries the prefix “dishonest” (to be fair, he’s showing more range than before; sometimes the media’s “dishonest,” sometimes it’s “very dishonest”). We are being nudged day after day toward scorning reports of what they’re doing. That’s how they can win.
Will it work? The answer may be the same as to the question of what Congress is about to do: it depends on us. Like our D.C. representatives, many media bosses have fingers in the wind, trying to figure out where all this is going. If they report honestly on the lies and self-dealing and corruption, will we support them with paid subscriptions? Will we rally behind them in the face of government threats? Will we call out media that counters good reporting with those famed alternative facts in order to be “objective?” Will we let key advertisers know which outlets do and don’t deserve their support? Much like our interaction with elected leaders, how we answer those questions can shape America’s future.
Letters, calls and emails to any media outlet — appreciation and criticism both — make a difference. You can also add your energy to two powerful national campaigns. They’re organized by Media Matters (www.mediamatters.org) and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (www.fair.org).
There’s plenty to do. The first step is to make sure you’re hearing what these people are saying. The news media is the enemy of the American people. The media should keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while. Right now the people telling us that are watching to see if we’ll let them plunge us into darkness. It’s on us to shine the light on this old power-consolidating tactic whenever, wherever and however we can.
— Jeff Golden of Ashland has spent more than 30 years in editorial journalism and public broadcasting. His current program is "Immense Possibilities," a weekly series on SOPTV, OPB and other northwest PBS stations, and online at www.immensepossibilities.org.