Not since the “nattering nabobs of negativism” days of disgraced Vice President Spiro T. Agnew 40 years ago has America’s news media been the target of as much harsh criticism as the venom President Trump directs toward journalists almost daily.
His appearance Tuesday in Phoenix was a campaign rally, so he felt no need to act presidential in delivering caustic remarks he knew would excite fans who needed little encouragement to lash out at Trump’s favorite whipping boy when he is trying to direct attention from his latest failing.
Having been praised by white supremacists, including former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, for not blaming them for the violence in Charlottesville, Va., that left a woman dead, Trump suggested it was the media’s fault that bigots treat him like a friend. He said his delay in singling out racist groups for criticism was blown out of proportion by reporters. “He didn’t say it fast enough,” Trump mocked. “Why did it take a day? He must be a racist.”
The president called journalists “dishonest people” and “anarchists,” implying that it is un-American to work in the profession unless it is for conservative Fox News. “How good is [Sean] Hannity? And he’s a great guy, and he’s an honest guy. And Fox and Friends in the Morning is the best show, and it’s the absolute, most honest show, and it’s the show I watch,” said Trump.
He delivered a litany of alleged media misdeeds that had no basis in reality. “Not only does the media give a platform to hate groups, but the media turns a blind eye to the gang violence on our streets, the failures of our public schools, the destruction of our wealth at the hands of the terrible, terrible trade deals made by politicians,” said Trump.
Worse than his misstatements was the relish in which they were received by an applauding crowd multiplied by his supporters who, in spirit, were in Phoenix too. Trump’s guile in manipulating audiences to discount accurate reporting and accept his accounts as truth is a disturbing reminder of how propagandists ply their trade in despotic regimes.
An article by Hugo Ringler in 1934 Germany, “The Work of Propagandists in the National Socialist State,” noted the importance of controlling the news. “Those who believe that the movement’s propagandists are less important now since we now control the state, which in turn controls the various propaganda methods, show only that they understand nothing of the nature and necessities of modern propaganda,” it said.
You fight propaganda with the truth, which is readily available if you care to find it. Unfortunately, the proliferation of news sources in the internet age provides so many choices that some choose unwisely and get propaganda pushing an agenda whose success hinges on the public’s being misinformed. The recent health care debate in which many Americans came to realize their interests weren’t being protected is a good example of that.
It’s OK for Trump to question news coverage. But his discrediting journalists has nothing to do with setting the record straight. Like a propagandist, he’s trying to eliminate competition for the public’s ears.