The president of the United States has now declared that CNN, NBC, CBS and ABC along with the “failing” New York Times and the Washington Post are not news organizations staffed by professional journalists but mere fabricators of baseless information.
“They are all Fake News!” Donald Trump wrote in yet another wildly unpresidential Twitter salvo.
Let’s pause to appreciate what this means: The president of the United States is issuing a blanket declaration that six of the most prominent and respected news outlets in the country are not to be trusted.
What prompted these latest hysterics from Trump were the resignations of three CNN journalists in the wake of the retraction of a story published on the network’s website.
The story, citing one anonymous source, claimed the Senate intelligence committee was looking into a meeting between the head of a Russian investment fund and Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci shortly before Trump took office.
Saying the story did not meet the network’s editorial standards, CNN pulled it from the website the night after it was published and apologized to Scaramucci. The network then accepted the resignations of the three journalists involved in the piece.
That doesn’t sound like something a fake news network would do. It sounds like a news organization taking swift responsibility for screwing something up and journalists taking responsibility for their actions.
Scaramucci seemed to think so as well, responding via Twitter: “CNN did the right thing. Classy move. Apology accepted. Everyone makes mistakes. Moving on.”
But apparently the president didn’t get the memo about moving on. He used the moment to pillory a network he has feuded with in the past and paint a wide array of news outlets with a preposterously broad brush.
Then White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders continued the “fake news media” blasting during Tuesday’s press briefing after she was asked why the CNN resignations weren’t enough to calm the president’s ire.
“I think it’s the constant barrage of fake news that is directed at this president, probably, that has garnered a lot of his frustration,” she said.
She also said: “News outlets get to go on, day after day, and cite unnamed sources, use stories without sources.”
There are many problems inherent in those two comments.
For starters, you’ll note that something is only “fake news” when it’s critical of President Trump. Was the New York Times story that broke the news that Hillary Clinton used a private email account while serving as secretary of state fake news? No.
Was any of the coverage of Clinton’s email server — coverage that dominated the latter part of the presidential campaign — fake news? Nope.
Was a recent Washington Post story detailing how the Obama administration handled Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election fake news? Not at all. In fact, Trump crowed about that story, tweeting: “Just out: The Obama Administration knew far in advance of November 8th about election meddling by Russia. Did nothing about it. WHY?”
And what about anonymous sources? Trump claims reporters just make up stories and cite sources that don’t exist. But apparently that doesn’t apply to the Washington Post story on Obama and Russia, which cited “interviews with more than three dozen current and former U.S. officials in senior positions in government,” most of whom “agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity.”
Were those made-up sources? Or are those solid sources because it’s a story Trump can use to shape his own narrative? I guess that story from the fake-news Washington Post is real news because Trump says so.
Adding to the absurdity of the administration’s full-frontal assault on the free press was Sanders’ endorsement during Tuesday’s press briefing of a web video by conservative laughingstock James O’Keefe, who makes deceptively edited undercover “gotcha” videos aimed at embarrassing organizations that conservatives love to hate.
The video in question shows a CNN producer — he produces health segments and has nothing to do with the network’s political coverage — questioning whether there’s anything to the Trump/Russia scandal. Given O’Keefe’s track record, it’s impossible to know how the video was edited, and regardless, people at news organizations are allowed to have differing opinions on the validity of news stories.
Sanders said: “There’s a video circulating now — whether it’s accurate or not, I don’t know — but I would encourage everyone in this room and, frankly, everybody across the country to take a look at it. I think if it is accurate, I think it’s a disgrace to all of media, to all of journalism.”
You’re a spokesperson for the leader of the free world and you’re encouraging all Americans to check out a video that may or may not be accurate? And you’re doing it while complaining about fake news and representing a president whose incessant, repeated and often inexplicable lies have been widely documented and decisively debunked?
Trusting the Trump administration right now requires a suspension of disbelief. There is no accountability for any lies or fabrications, only finger-pointing and attempts to sow distrust in our democratic institutions.
Journalists, like anyone else, are capable of lying or making stuff up. But when that happens, we wind up out of a job. Quickly.
If you refuse to believe that and prefer Trump’s attempt to get you to doubt everything you hear, consider these words from Hannah Arendt, an American political theorist who wrote extensively about totalitarianism:
“A people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.”
That’s what Trump wants. He wants to do as he pleases.
Don’t let him.
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