In the May 2016 edition of The Merionite, I wrote an article about one of the biggest events of the political spring season: the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The article outlined how the White House and the White House Correspondents’ Association had become too closely affiliated, counteracting the original purpose of the WHCA, which was to create a channel of information from the White House that was as unbiased as possible. At the time, the worst foreseeable outcome was a secretive increase in state manipulation of the media, leading to reduced transparency in the government. It was impossible for anyone to know what the next year had in store.
It is undeniable that the last twelve months have been full of unimaginable changes. Week after week, impossible events followed each other like dominoes until the worst nightmares of some were eventually realized. In the aftermath, it is easy to become disinterested in a political landscape that seems bizarre and out of touch, but it is vital to maintain a keen eye in order to keep the current administration in check. While some may feel that many of the current administration’s policies benefit them, the Trump administration’s interaction with the established media is indefensible. At the very least it is unsustainable, as it causes extreme confusion daily without fail. More likely, though, it is directly guiding us to the end of our democracy as we know it.
Donald Trump is currently fighting a two-front war with the media. The primary and more publicized front is against the truth itself. With weapons like ‘alternative facts’ and a failure to take responsibility for the accuracy of his own statements, Donald Trump baffles his critics through pure shamelessness. However, the far less obvious but more long-lasting effect of Donald Trump’s war on the media is the utter destruction of the established press.
For almost all of American history, the press has been one of the most vital private structures in the system of checks and balances. Privatized for a reason, the press is meant to act in the interest of the American people, not the American government. In early 1914, for example, during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, rumors began to spread in Washington that a congressional committee would begin to decide which journalists would be allowed at the president’s newly regular press conferences. This, of course, was the very reason for the founding of the WHCA and from it have come other non-governmental journalistic organizations. The goal of the WHCA is to toe the line between manipulation of information and a lack of transparency, with the former being the major fear of the people during previous administrations. The White House Correspondents’ Dinner perfectly showcased how the government and its supposed monitoring structure truly sat down together at the dinner table. Any inkling of that worry has completely dissipated now as the Trump administration, rather than bring the balance back to the center, has decided to jump straight across to the other side.
Now Trump shows unabashed favoritism to those news outlets that glorify him, particularly newer, more extremist ones like Breitbart. In the meantime, he attacks those that question him, regardless of their credibility. One LM student called it “unconstitutional,” saying that it was “disheartening to see such a strong bias take effect in the government.” He praises Infowars, an internet outlet that spreads blatant conspiracy theories and insults and demonizes outlets like the centuries-old New York Times. The absolute reflection from the issues of the last few administrations can be seen in the fact that Donald Trump will not even be attending the White House Correspondents’ Dinner this year without so much as a decent excuse. While it could be argued that this choice by Donald Trump shows a future without corruption of the media, the truth is much less bright.
In reality, Trump’s decision cements the end of true transparency in this administration. He has decided to silently assassinate the autonomy of the press. Rather than covert manipulation, Trump will opt for overt control. The WHCA will soon be deemed useless as its clear channel of information; rather than being tainted, it will be completely dammed. From now on, the public will see only what Trump wants them to see, hear only what Trump wants them to hear, and know only what Trump wants them to know.
As for the common argument used by Trump that the mainstream media has some sort of vendetta against him, the decision must ultimately be left to the people. If a news source truly does not reflect the world around them, the people will gravitate towards others that do. In other words, if Trump truly does make the country better, he has nothing to fear from the media, as people will move away from those sources that are blatantly putting forth lies when they see that their lives do not match the rhetoric they receive from the press. On the contrary, if Trump does not meet his own expectations, it will be the job of the media to share this fact, and therefore there will be need for the very sources of information that Trump critiques. Otherwise, without any press that is not pro-Trump, the days of Americans being essentially spoon-fed unbiased information will end. It therefore must be urged that each and every citizen wake from their passive absorption of information, as it will soon be our duty to seek out the truth. There will no longer be any organization to rely on to keep our government in check, and it will fall on all our shoulders to keep the freedoms of this country alive.