Friday, February 24, 2017

Trump’s Dangerous Attack on “Fake” News

CNN home page Feb. 25--after CNN was excluded from White House briefing.

Shouts of adulation greeted President Trump’s strange CPAC speech Friday, a speech that chillingly included his continued assault on what he calls “fake” news.

And then, the same day, the White House excluded certain news outlets from a daily briefing. The excluded outlets included The New York Times, CNN, the Los Angeles Times, the BBC and POLITICO.

In his Friday speech, Trump in one breath mocked the media for worrying about the fate of the First Amendment—which he said nobody loves more than himself—and then says use of anonymous sources should “not be allowed.”

Trump can’t seem to understand himself. It’s true that many past presidents awarded favorable news coverage with media access, and excluded unfavorable outlets. It’s also true that the Obama administration had a bad reputation for secrecy and pursuing leaks. But Trump’s call for specific practices to be “not allowed” or calling some of the most mainstream news sources “enemies” goes beyond anything I’ve seen before.

It’s chilling. It’s un-American, to quote CNN's Jake Tapper  (although he was talking about the White House exclusion and not the CPAC speech--but I think the same thinking applies). It’s dangerous to democracy.

And it comes from a President who himself can’t tell fact from fiction. Fact check sites lit up like Christmas trees trying to chase after the strange falsehoods in the Friday speech of the President who decries “fake” news.

Among the fake lines in President Trump’s speech:
  • He claimed the media dropped the word “fake” from reports about his tweet attack last week, in which he said “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBC, @ABC, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people.” News reports in all of those outlets quoted the President’s bizarre rant in its entirety, so the supposed exclusion of “fake” was itself fake.
  • He claimed he got “many” votes from Bernie Sanders supporters. Well, I supposed that depends on how you define “many,” there certainly were Sanders supporters who voted for Trump, but The New York Times reported that number appeared to range from 3 percent to 13 percent (the variance is because the only data on this point comes from polls, and those with third party candidates included had dramatically different results). It’s a stretch to call that “many.” And since Trump doesn’t believe polls and polls are the only data on this point—where can his information possibly come from?
  • He claimed the polls all got the election wrong. In fact, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, as polls predicted. Three key states swung Trump’s way and gave him a narrow Electoral College victory, but that hardly de-legitimizes all polls. And Trump has continued to lie about the elections results, falsely blaming his vote loss on cheating, and staking claim to some grand Electoral College mandate that doesn’t exist outside of his imagination.
  • He said the Affordable Care Act took healthcare away from people. Most estimates are that about 20 million Americans gained coverage due to the ACA. Some people did lose their previous plans, but the number of insured American grew dramatically—the uninsured rate dropped to a historic low under the law.
I checked, the Washington Post’s fact check site and the New York Times fact check story on Trump’s speech. All had similar long lists of Trump lies. The list of lies above comes mostly from the Times.

You could ignore the list because you think it comes from the “fake” news media. But that means that you’re buying into a delusional and false world view represented by the current liar-in-chief.

Look, I would not claim there is not bias in the media. Certainly, as a group, people who work at large metropolitan media outlets are more liberal than the country as a whole—but that has a lot to do with an education bias. More educated people, as a group, are more liberal than the population as a whole. And journalism as a profession, for various cultural reasons, has always attracted many people with a liberal bent.

But political bias isn’t not the same as “fake.” Unlike Trump, the New York Times takes great effort to verify the facts it reports.

I think it’s OK to worry about political bias in the media, but to me, the greater problem is fact bias among the public. Too many tune out because they're convinced the media lie, especially when that's the consistent message from the Trump camp.

But, Trump—most of us know you lie. Pretty much whenever your lips are moving. And you’ve embarked on a dangerous path—a road that doesn’t lead to democracy, but that is tinged with authoritarianism. The “fake” media are free under the First Amendment, because the founders believed an independent press was necessary for a democracy.

And you don’t seem to get it.

We salute with pride the same American flag. That flag stands for freedom. Your petulant lying attacks on media that you don’t like because they report unpleasant truths about your failing administration do not promote that freedom, but run counter to it.

Sure, your lies are protected the same First Amendment, but all of us have a right to call you on them, too. In my heart, I believe that the flag waves for honest journalists who won’t be intimidated by you.

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