President Trump has generally had an antagonistic relationship with the media since the beginning of his campaign for the presidency. However, on Feb. 17, in a tweet, he officially declared war on the American press.
“The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @CNN, @NBCNews and many more) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people. SICK!”
The media is not a monolith. It is made up of reporters, editors, photographers, producers, managers and numerous other positions. These are human beings just like you and me and are bound to make mistakes on occasion.
This does not, however, mean that the stories the mainstream media report on are fake. They may be, and generally are, biased, but to say that they are objectively untrue is false. They may be subjectively untrue, we may not wish to believe them, but they generally come from facts.
Trump may have an issue with bias in the media, many Americans do, as well, including myself. Media bias is nothing new and paints the stories we see every day.
For example, Fox News may report on a terrorist attack and use the phrase “Radical Islamic terrorism” to describe the cause of the event. CNN or NBC may report on the same attack and use the phrase “radical terrorism” or perhaps “ISIS militants.”
Neither news outlet is denying that an attack occurred, they simply differ on what words to use when describing the cause of the attack and there are legitimate reasons why both wordings should be used.
What the president and his administration don’t understand is that media bias isn’t going anywhere, and the media being biased does not mean the media isn’t credible.
The press is not obligated to report on things we agree with, no matter how powerful we are. Part of having a free press is having an adversarial press as well.
The best defense against totalitarianism and authoritarian regimes is a press that is unafraid to criticize our leaders where criticism is deserved.
Actual fake news is rarely reported by any of the outlets Trump mentioned. Fake news is largely aggregated and spread on social media.
During the election, Facebook was a large source of fake news due to the algorithm by which it decided how articles would be shown on its news feed. The more sensationalistic sounding the article was, the more views and shares it got with little in the way of fact-checking. To their credit, Facebook has taken steps to combat this by changing the way news stories are presented to users.
Trump has also claimed that Thomas Jefferson was opposed to the media, specifically, newspapers. Jefferson, like every American, had criticisms of the media of his day. This does not mean he was as universally opposed to the media as our current president seems.
In a correspondence, Jefferson wrote “the basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter, but I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.”
There is much more to be said of this subject than this article can accommodate, but the operative part of Jefferson’s quote is to “be capable of reading them.” To be smart and recognize what is true and false in media and be able to extract the facts from the news is just as important as having a fair and free press in the first place.