Media Bias: Donald Trump thinks the press behave more like propagandists than like journalists
There is a difference between opinion writing and propaganda.
Opinion writing reflects the independent opinion of the individual or institution expressing itself. It’s for the purpose of persuading, but also of letting you know the bias of the writer. It’s designed to contribute the the larger discussion of ideas that takes place in a free society, and to be upfront about the thinking of the writer.
If you read it and it makes you think, then the writer did his or her job.
Propaganda looks the same but is actually a very different animal. Propaganda is typically organized and coordinated with a specific outcome in mind. Propaganda disguises itself as independent and honest, but it’s really driven an agenda of manipulation. If those reading aren’t persuaded to take the side of Party A over Party B, then the propaganda didn’t work.
Now, the news media would have you believe politicians are propagandists, whereas they are the honest straight-shooters with no agenda and no intent to manipulate. It upsets them very much when President Trump and others suggest that they, in fact, are propagandists and are engaged in the very thing they claim to check in others.
Yet today they ham-handedly proved him right:
More than 300 news publications across the country are joining together to defend the role of a free press and denounce President Trump’s ongoing attacks on the news media in coordinated editorials publishing Thursday, according to a tally by The Boston Globe.
The project was spearheaded by staff members of the editorial page at the Globe, who write: “This relentless assault on the free press has dangerous consequences. We asked editorial boards from around the country – liberal and conservative, large and small — to join us today to address this fundamental threat in their own words.”
Marjorie Pritchard, the Globe‘s deputy managing editor of the editorial page who led the effort, told NPR’s Morning Edition, “This editorial project is not against the Trump administration’s agenda. It’s a response to put us into the public discourse and defend the First Amendment.”
She said the reason to publish the editorials now was “because the press needs to have a voice on this. … We’ve done individual editorials, but I think it’s, there is some strength in numbers of just defending a constitutionally enshrined pillar of democracy.”
Self-reverential as ever, the news media has decided to not only make itself the story, but launch into a major departure from its normal mode of operation in order to stop the scourge of people criticizing them.
Yet nothing about Marjorie Pritchard’s explanation of this makes sense. The press hardly needs to “put itself into the public discourse.” It is and has long been the leading player in the public discourse. When average people have as big a voice as your typical media outlet, then we’ll all have the opportunity to exercise our First Amendment rights to full and most powerful effect. For the moment, it’s surreal to the point of absurdity for the press to claim they’re not players in the public discourse. They’re the biggest players.
And if these people think there’s a need to “defend the First Amendment” against anything the president is doing, they need to go back and re-read the First Amendment for what it says – and doesn’t say. Criticism of the news media is not in conflict with the First Amendment. Indeed, those who attack the media are merely exercising their own rights every bit as much as the media are exercising theirs by publishing.
The First Amendment gives the press the freedom to publish and broadcast without facing legal jeopardy for what it says, and even Donald Trump when decrying “fake news” isn’t imposing any legal sanction on his media antagonists. He’s just giving as good as he gets.
Much of the press seem to think that their role in American life is so sacrosanct that they should be immune from all criticism – or at least from effective criticism in which a public figure actually starts persuading people that the media aren’t doing their jobs honestly or responsibly.
But what of Trump’s labeling of them as “the enemy of the people”? Isn’t that over the top? Doesn’t that demand a coordinated response?
First, if the media never did anything to give credence to that claim, the public would reject it out of hand and Trump would damage his own credibility by continuing to make it. The fact is that roughly half the American public feels the press is biased against their point of view, and doesn’t trust their reporting of the day’s events to be honest or objective. A Gallup poll last year said only 31 percent of the public trusts the media. That did not start with Donald Trump, and it is not because of anything Donald Trump has said or done. Donald Trump is pointing to things much of America already recognizes are not right.
Donald Trump thinks the press behave more like propagandists than like journalists
Second, I agree with the media about the importance of what they do. It is essential to the maintenance of a free society. That is precisely why it’s so important that they do their job honestly and responsibly. If an honest, effective reporter is an asset to the nation (and I agree that he or she is), then why is it so absurd to suggest a dishonest, irresponsible reporter is an enemy of the people?
The media can’t have it both ways. If they’re really as important as they insist they are, then they have the power to do great harm by abusing their platforms. Those who do so are nothing if not enemies.
Donald Trump thinks the press behave more like propagandists than like journalists. They are sure proving him right with their little stunt today.