The work of a Free Press is instrumental to the functioning of a free republic. A Freed Press can destroy a republic.
From our earliest days, our forefathers recognized the freedom of the press to be one of the most valuable rights for Americans. With their focus on assuring that individual power was the foundation of a vibrant republic, they saw press freedom as the important link to keeping a free people educated and informed. Their distrust of government power gave them reason to want a fundamental right for the press to help keep the workings of government in check. A free press was an essential element of the Bill of Rights they designed to preserve the power of citizens to govern.
What the forefathers failed to anticipate was the development of a freed media that possesses the instruments of power to use for public persuasion and ideological propaganda and uses that power irresponsibly. The goal of education and information our founders envisioned was noble and just. But what if opinion parades as fact? What if political prejudice parades as truth? What if media personalities become more interested in preening their profiles than in gathering the facts and reporting them accurately? What if the media industry focuses so much on eyeballs looking at their product and the money that those watchers generate that they lose track of their obligation to be non-partisan, non-ideological and fair. A media freed to do as it pleases regardless of responsibility and truth can be destructive of the fabric of democracy.
We should wince when the President sees fit to call the media establishment “an enemy of the people.” Yet, we also should be disturbed that the term “Fake News” to often appears to have substance. We are witnessing an era when stories are hurriedly reported that turn out to be wrong or facts are manipulated to create a false impression. Too often, it seems, the mainstream media is far more interested in rushing to judgement on stories that seem to fit their political leanings. They end up looking foolish and bias in their attempt to establish public opinion outcomes. And even when facts emerge that counter the incomplete and inaccurate early reports, there is often an effort to justify the mistakes and even to bury the new reality.
During the eight years of the Obama Administration, the media became increasingly emboldened pushing an ideological and political agenda. Much of the mainstream media was enamored of President Obama who they helped elect by demonizing John McCain and openly promoting Barack Obama. Despite the Obama Administration being arguably the most corrupt institutional administration in history, the press and media failed to pursue scandal after scandal.
The Attorney General, Eric Holder, wrecked the Justice Department. Hans von Spakovsky wrote at the time Holder stepped down, “There is no telling how long it will take to repair the damage done to the Justice Department.” Holder has since referred to himself as President Obama’s “Wingman”. The wingman became the first Attorney General in history to be held in contempt. He simply ignored the citation and was not prosecuted. He spied on Associated Press and Fox News reporters, he covered up details of a Fort Hood mass killing, and he permitted top positions in the Justice Department to go to Obama campaign financial bundlers. All of this received minimal media coverage despite opinions like Mark Wachtler’s who wrote, “Few government officials in American history
have been tainted by as much corruption, criminal activity and scandal as Eric Holder.
The Obama crowd used government agencies to intimidate their political opponents. Lois Learner of the IRS was held in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about her involvement in using the agency to target conservative organizations. There was no enforcement of that contempt citation and no criminal prosecution for Lerner’s violation of the law. A major institution of government was compromised by political operatives and the media paid minimal attention.
The Treasury Department diverted money from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to pay for Obamacare expenses that Congress had refused to cover. $126.9 billion was raided from supposed trust funds to make Obamacare work. The Treasury also found gold and bundles of cash to pay off the Iranians as a part of the nuclear deal. Again, whatever coverage the mainstream media gave these scandals was quickly dropped and forgotten.
The State Department had a Secretary who compromised critical national intelligence communications. The FBI investigated her and then exonerated her before her case ever got to prosecutors. And the media moved on.
What the press and media did not expect was that Donald Trump would succeed President Obama. When it became clear that Trump had won the election, panic set in. The mainstream media had helped make “The Donald” the Republican nominee believing he would be the easiest to beat. But Trump outsmarted them by reaching beyond them to millions of Americans who liked his message of greatness and reform. But now the media was faced with the potential that all of the scandals they covered lightly or ignored in the Obama years would be discovered and their political agenda would be exposed and destroyed. Their only hope was to use their friends inside the Departments and agencies and their communications power to destroy the incoming President. Nearly all of the invective and hate that has been thrown at President Trump since November, 2016 is media driven. Small wonder that the President is not favorably disposed toward many of the media outlets and personalities.
But the big story is in the contrasts. While President Obama had an Attorney General who was his wingman, any contact that President Trump has with his Attorney General, starting with the neutering of Jeff Sessions, is considered a huge ethical violation and covered extensively by the media. President Trump is excoriated seeking to do the same things at the nation’s southern border that the Obama crowd was hailed for doing. When President Trump tries to move money from one agency to another to support his key agenda items, it becomes a constitutional crisis for the same people who looked the other way when Obamacare was being funded with unappropriated money. The President and his family have been investigated interminably for something that appears to have no substance and, even if proven, is not criminal.
Yet, with story after story, the mainstream media has sought to criminalize and weaken President Trump. His strong economic record, his foreign policy successes, his trade deals and his determination to do exactly what he told the American people he was going to do are all underplayed in media analysis. Big successes are buried under questionable scandal headlines. He is called every vile name in the book by talk show hosts, comedians and commentators who pretend to be real reporters and correspondents. They hate President Trump with a passion. Their coverage of everything he does drips with venom. And it is all because his political playbook does not reflect their ideological preference.
There was a time when press and media were respected. No longer. The Washington Examiner reports that a Columbia Journalism poll done by Reuters/Ipsos found that media is last on the list of Washington institutions that merits the public’s confidence. The media even finished below the Congress.
Media was respected when it provided even handed coverage and criticism of public policies and personalities. It played a vital role by holding public officials responsible for their decisions and their performance. But evenhandedness has been obliterated by ideological conformity. And we as a nation are the worse for that change. A free press is vital. A press freed to pursue ideology rather than truth is dangerous.