Sunday 16 June 2019

Colette Browne: Trump's attack on media should remind journalists to do their job

Press Secretary Sean Spicer delivers a statement while screens show a picture of President Donald Trump’s inauguration at the press briefing room of the White House. Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters
Press Secretary Sean Spicer delivers a statement while screens show a picture of President Donald Trump’s inauguration at the press briefing room of the White House. Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

Serious people who work for serious media in America are in something of a crisis. Donald Trump repeatedly, blatantly and unapologetically lies, and they don't quite know what to do about it.

They knew he lied before the election. He often made completely contradictory statements within a couple of hours, denied making statements despite video evidence to the contrary, and routinely spewed spurious statistics and psychotic conspiracy theories to bolster his threadbare arguments.

Somehow, they thought that once he assumed office, things would be different; that he would become president and the gravitas and responsibility of the office would, by a process of osmosis, somehow override his innate inclination to insult, deceive and mislead.

Surprise! It hasn't. Barely 24 hours after his inauguration, it was clear that Trump does not regard himself as commander-in-chief. Instead, he is celebrity-in-chief - and ratings are his primary concern.

Not content with being sworn in as the most powerful man on the planet, Trump was miffed the attendance at his inauguration as reported by the media was down on previous years. The fact those reports were accurate was immaterial.

So, he declared his first war as president - against the "lying" media - in a speech at CIA headquarters on Saturday. Journalists, he said, were "among the most dishonest human beings on Earth" and had deliberately understated the size of the crowd at his inauguration.

Displaying truly 'big league' levels of pomposity, he launched this attack while standing in front of the CIA's memorial wall of fallen heroes, which commemorates agents who died for their country. Meanwhile, Trump can't even withstand a factual report about his own inauguration without crying like a baby.

Even more pathetic, so delicate is Trump's massive ego that he must be accompanied at public events by a travelling circus of braying sea lions who bark and clap their approval whenever he manages to complete a sentence.

His blistering tirade against the media was punctuated with thunderous applause and shrieks of approval - suggesting the CIA staffers present had the self-restraint and decorum of 13-year-old girls at a One Direction concert.

It was only later that a pool report from a journalist made it clear that those clapping and whooping were not CIA agents but Trump's loyal team of paid flunkies.

Having hijacked his own speech to the CIA to rant about the media, Trump then sent his press secretary out to do battle for him. In a performance that will go down as among the most wretched and pitiable by any press secretary in history, a hysterical Sean Spicer lambasted a bunch of slack-jawed journalists for having the temerity to accurately report a crowd size.

With Spicer now being likened to Comical Ali, the US media is beginning to ask itself an existential question - how are journalists going to cover an administration that not only lies, but revels in falsehoods?

The fact journalists are so disturbed by the revelation that politicians lie, spin and use subterfuge is an indictment of them, not of Trump. Donald Trump is a 70-year-old toddler - an inveterate attention-seeker whose only concern is himself. His behaviour, while lamentable, is predictable. He can't help himself.

The media, on the other hand, has reacted to this latest fiasco with funereal analysis in hushed tones, as if truth died in the White House pressroom when Obama left office.

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway was roundly mocked when she defended Spicer, saying he had merely offered "alternative facts" when he claimed the inauguration was the largest in history.

While this claim is specious in the context of demonstrably false claims about crowd size, every government in the world tries to massage figures; or pluck abridged sentences out of reports that paint them in the best light; or present out-of-context statistics that flatter their point of view.

It is not the job of journalists to credulously parrot everything they hear from government representatives in press conferences. They should be fact-checking every single claim - even if the source of the information is not as monumentally inept as Sean Spicer.

Ironically, Trump may have actually done journalists a favour and given them the punch in the gut they needed to remind them of their jobs - they're journalists, not stenographers.

While most rational presidents would not choose the crowd size at their inauguration as a hill to die on, especially when photographic evidence disproves their outlandish claims, all administrations try to manage the media - even the saintly Barack Obama.

As most media outlets were engaged in an embarrassing lionisation of Obama as he departed office, 'New York Times' journalist James Risen reminded readers that his administration's "war on leaks and other efforts to control information [were] the most aggressive I've seen since the Nixon administration".

Of course, all of that was going on in the background while Obama's press secretary was playing nice and being polite to White House reporters, so it didn't get much traction.

However, now that Trump and his band of merry idiots have been so blatant and shameless about their lying, the media will have to act and change the way it credulously covers politics, or risk journalists becoming obvious propaganda puppets.

For that, Trump may have done his country some service.

Irish Independent

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