Many Fox News media personalities (I hesitate to call them journalists) are crowing over the president’s smackdown of the “liberal media” in his now infamous press conference last Thursday. Having been singled out by Trump as praiseworthy for their supposed fair and respectful coverage of His Highness, Fox pundits went on their own rant about liberal media bias with conservative comedian (also a term I’m using loosely here) Greg Gutfield yesterday. What Gutfield and friends don’t seem to realize is something Trump, however buffoonish he appears, understands quite well: The pen is mightier than the sword.
When Trump tweeted, “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!,” the entire political establishment on both the Left and the Right should have called for his immediate resignation. Instead, the lone critic among conservatives was Sen. John McCain, who to his credit has been unceasingly critical of Trump’s unconscionable statements.
On his show, Gutfield proved that he has totally missed the point of Trump’s relentless attacks on the media by pointing out that no one has tried to ban or silence news outlets. But the Trump administration knows it doesn’t need to take such drastic action. Instead, they seek to create a reality in which the media in general is suspect, not to be trusted. Among Trump’s loyal supporters, this has already been the case for months. But as serious allegations surface concerning the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia and other Trump administration ties to the despotic regime, it has become imperative for them to discredit the very independent press that could do the most damage to their existence.
I grew up during the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon. America learned about the Republican dirty tricks and coverups of the Nixon administration only because two intrepid reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, relentlessly pursued the truth. I have no doubt that there are serious journalists right now who are investigating Trump’s ties to Russia. But will they be believed?
There are some encouraging signs of the media fighting back. Chris Wallace, anchor on the right-leaning Fox News channel, took White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to task this morning for Trump’s words. As he pointed out to Priebus, “You don’t get to tell us what to do, Reince. You don’t get to tell us what to do any more than Barack Obama did. Barack Obama whined about Fox News all the time, but I’ve got to say, he never said we were an enemy of the people.”
A free press is the very foundation of a democracy. Without true freedom of speech and an acknowledgment of the difference between facts and opinions, a democratically elected president can become an autocrat. It is up to responsible journalists to keep asking the probing questions, to keep investigating, to keep seeking the truth, whether it favors the Right or Left.
And it is up to the American people not to let a bully tell them whom or what to believe.