I recently saw an article written by the Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev entitled, “A Message to My Doomed Colleagues in the American Media.” It was published shortly after Donald Trump called out CNN as “fake news,” refusing to give a question to senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, during his first press conference as president-elect.
The mainstream media, of course, immediately claimed that Trump’s actions were akin to an attack on freedom of the press. From the women on ABC’s The View to CNN’s Ruth Ben-Ghiat, the media was rife with comparisons with dictators and “strongmen.” By the time the above-mentioned article came out, I figured it was time to bring some context to the rampant hyperbole.
In his article Mr. Kovalev wrote:
“Congratulations, US media! You’ve just covered your first press conference of an authoritarian leader with a massive ego and a deep disdain for your trade and everything you hold dear…”
He goes on to tell about his experiences in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, explaining how the American media will be facing a similar situation now under President Trump.
I don’t know about the situation in Russia, and I do want to say right now that I am not writing this out of any animosity against Mr. Kovalev. I simply noticed several interesting points in his article that I found to be errors in his assessment of the situation and wanted to take a moment to correct them.
For many outside the United States, the many millions of people who accept the information disseminated by sources like CNN and BuzzFeed (you will see why I mention them in a moment), it is difficult to know what is happening in the United States outside of the mainstream narrative.
This is why it is so important for journalists and news centers like CNN (and many others) to ensure the accuracy of their reporting; it is also why individuals must take it upon themselves to research what they hear through these mediums as the credibility of many mainstream media outlets continues to come into question.
From questionable coverage of the Wikileaks email releases during the election to the silent omission of the fact that many of the “moderate rebels” in eastern Aleppo were, in fact, al-Nusra (Syria’s branch of al-Qaeda), the bias that is evident in the coverage of politicized events should be obvious to anyone with a shred of skepticism and journalistic integrity. There is a reason why Donald Trump called them “fake news” — although, in all fairness, Trump is far from a model of honest discourse.
Kovalev continues, writing: “Welcome to the era of bullshit… Facts don’t matter. You can’t hurt this man with facts or reason.”
I agree with Mr. Kovalev that facts matter. I know firsthand how incredibly frustrating it can be to have someone refuse to acknowledge facts and reason. But hold on one second, the story that was released by BuzzFeed and then CNN, the “dossier” story that caused Donald Trump to call the press conference and refuse to take a question from Jim Acosta, was itself the epitome of “fake news.”
These were not facts being held to the light. This was no attempt by journalists to “hold corruption’s feet to the fire.” On the contrary, this was a fabricated story that was published as news.
CNN’s Jake Tapper, in a conversation with Wolf Blitzer, admitted that the story hurt CNN’s credibility. “it’s irresponsible to put uncorroborated information on the internet. I can understand why President-elect Trump would be upset about it. That’s why we did not detail any specifics from it because it was uncorroborated and that’s not what we do. We are in the business of sussing out what is true and false.”
There is a reason why so few people are mad about Trump’s actions here. As a friend of mine so eloquently stated, “Jailing reporters or having their news station shut down are acts that real dictators do to threaten journalism. Letting a reporter have access to your news conference, ask an initial question, and then not respond is far from being a threat to the free press.”
For many Americans, the president calling CNN “fake news” was not seen as an attempt to silence the press, rather, it was viewed as refreshing honesty and justice for CNN’s many scandals and their seemingly agenda-driven “journalism.”
A recent Rasmussen poll reported that out of 75% of likely voters that watch cable news for political coverage, only 35% were likely to turn to CNN for their coverage. Even less (19%) were inclined to touch, the toxic sludge (there’s my bias) that is MSNBC. But it gets even worse for CNN — of the 35% that said they would turn to CNN for their political coverage, only 33% said that they trust the coverage they are getting.
So, far from being the actions of a demagogue or the beginning of the end for the First Amendment in the United States, Trump’s spurning of CNN seems more like a president-elect and a public that are simply tired of political propaganda masquerading as news.
You’ve most likely heard of the aphorism, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” I would say this is a case of something similar. “Don’t attribute to totalitarianism that which is adequately explained by people who are simply tired of an agenda-driven narrative.”
However, the danger that comes from a press corps undermining its own legitimacy cannot be stressed enough. The Trump administration, like all administrations, will need to be held accountable for their actions and policies. It is up to those in the press corps to do that. But, as the old fable warns if you cry wolf too many times when the time comes when a real wolf appears, no one will believe you!
If the press keeps up with the current practice of sensationalizing everything Donald Trump does and says, and continues to push the narrative of “how terrible he is” when he has yet to take office, how will anyone know to tell the difference if he does something truly dangerous.
When everything is sensational, then nothing is – even if it’s something that needs to be!
Oh… and by the way, Acosta got his question asked anyways:
Fortunately ABC's Cecilia Vega asked my question about whether any Trump associates contacted Russians. Trump said no.
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) January 11, 2017