Targeting the Messenger

Terry H. Schwadron

Oct. 12, 2017

Whatever you may think of Donald Trump’s time as president, we can all agree on a few things: Trump has had a tough time with desired legislation, he has upended protocols all over the place with foes and allies alike, and he has engaged in an extended war on what appears in the media about him.

In a world in which anything that raises a question is considered “fake news,” even real issues of fakeness from, say, Russian hackers, get lost in the general miasma that follows.

And while only an oversensitive bunch of Washington-centric reporters and television personalities might get really exercised about any attempt to counter their journalism, Trump now has drawn the curtains back and we get a real glimpse of something pretty dangerous at the White House.

More than once yesterday, the President of the United States threatened to pull the license of NBC News because it aired reports that he did not like. It is an outright threat — without basis in law, by the way — that gets right to the point. It explains why Trump would applaud Vladimir Putin and stand with Turkey dictator Raycep Ergodan, whose security goons twice physically attacked protesters on U.S. soil without a word of reprimand from the White House.

“The press should speak more honestly,” said Trump “I mean, I’ve seen tremendously dishonest press. It’s not even a question of distortion,” he added. “And then they have their sources that don’t exist, in my opinion, they don’t exist. They make up the sources. There are no sources.”

It becomes clearer and clearer, whether through insults to senators who speak up, or political opponents, or simply a San Juan Mayor who showed the temerity of pointing out what is obvious to anyone actually looking at post-hurricane Puerto Rico, that the bad effects continue despite the size of federal aid.

Over time, Trump has said a lot of bad things about the media since he started running for president, suggesting that the press does not like American, that the media is the enemy of the people, that journalists are among the most dishonest people, all outlined in innumerable articles over the Trump era. But tweeting “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!” he is outwardly setting a new, dangerous standard — my way or the highway, in effect.

The issue at hand was NBC reporting that the Tillerson “moron” remark had followed a Pentagon meeting at which Trump suggested adding lots more nuclear weapons. The White House denies that, though it does acknowledge that Trump wants a strong nuclear deterrent, with upgraded, refurbished nuclear weapons. In other words, despite SALT treaties, more nukes.

That the President does not understand the nature of the nation’s nuclear weapons supplies is pretty awful all by itself, but let’s set that aside for the moment. He wants punitive action, like pulling their license to do business. At a photo-op with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump added that “it is frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write”

For journalists of any kind, this is the kind of talk that is “the stuff of authoritarian governments,” as CNN put it. “Democracy is built on the free and independent press. If/when a president or any leader seizes the ability to control the news media, democracy dies.”

It reflects his role as leader of a family business, where if there is something that he doesn’t like, he can simply swat it away. He is in a different role now. As I try so often to do, I try imagining the actual country that he wants to see come about, and I keep coming around to current-day Turkey or Russia or the limits on Chinese dissent. Don’t even mention North Korea.

Just for nothing, you hear nothing from this same President about the growth of Sinclair television networks which are pending before the Federal Communications Commission. A deal with Tronc would allow a huge expansion for a television network that is outwardly rightist in required political programming at each local station, according to reports.

Of course, the media — which is a pretty amorphous combine of everything from established news outlets increasingly to partisan websites and an out-of-control social media that too often serves as a political echo-chamber, needs to police itself. A right-wing gotcha hidden camera caught a New York Times junior editor for video saying he uses his personal political judgments in assessing the value of videos; I’d say he faces a most uncertain future, if any, at The Times.

Still media serves as a good horse to beat for a lot of Americans, who are looking more for affirmation than information from the daily news. Providing the news 24 hours a day, day in and day out, with standards and protocols, is not easy work. If you don’t think so, you ought to try it for more than a minute. There will be mistakes.

The issue for a free and independent press to own up to them — not for the President to decide what passes as sufficient fawning reports about his government. There is a name for that: Propaganda.

Look at the White House’s video about hurricane preparations — it leaves out anything unpleasant about being in Puerto Rico now three weeks aver the event. That’s what you get with propaganda. You get the wonders of coal, not the end of clean air efforts; you get talk of “great health care” rather than a description of putting millions of people off insurance.

That the president cannot just pull the broadcast license of a television network that angers him does not eliminate the threat. (The FCC doesn’t even license networks, it licenses individual television stations.) Every time I get a glimpse of the real Trump, I get newly upset, from his ethics to policies to world vision. It is not just because I disagree, it is because he lacks any empathy and respect for the office he holds.






Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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Terry Schwadron

Terry Schwadron

Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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