Monday, August 27, 2018

The Role of the Media In The Trump Reich

Last September I wrote a post on the Harvard study which analyzed the role of online media in the 2016 presidential elections.  That study tells us what the role of the online media might have been in getting us so much closer to a dictatorship, and I still recommend reading my post for some background.

Whatever the sins, omissions and commissions of that media coverage might have been, currently the most serious problem the press faces is one Donald Trump and his views, expressed in several tweets, that the media is the enemy of the people.

This behavior is typical of dictators who close down any newspapers that criticize the government or even imprison journalists who are not sufficiently adulatory toward the dictator.  Our Dear Leader would love to join that elite group of autocrats!

And a plurality of Republicans seems to agree. A survey conducted by Ipsos and published in early August found that:

All told, 43 percent of self-identified Republicans said that they believed “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.” Only 36 percent disagreed with that statement. When asked if Trump should close down specific outlets, including CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, nearly a quarter of Republicans (23 percent) agreed and 49 percent disagreed.

Republicans were far more likely to take a negative view of the media. Forty-eight percent of them said they believed “the news media is the enemy of the American people” (just 28 percent disagreed) while nearly four out of every five (79 percent) said that they believed “the mainstream media treats President Trump unfairly.”

I wonder what those percentages would have been had Hillary Clinton been the president that those poll statements referred to.  Knowing that would allow us to assess if this new desire for the end of democracy is just the average win-at-any-cost tribalism or if, indeed, a sizable percentage of Americans wants democracy to end.*

While most mainstream newspapers are on Trump's Enemies List, one part of the US media does, however, have a very specific role in the Trump Reich.  Last January Matthew Gertz argued in Politico that Trump uses the conservative media, and, in particular, Fox News, as a source of information for presidenting!

Here’s what’s also shocking: A man with unparalleled access to the world’s most powerful information-gathering machine, with an intelligence budget estimated at $73 billion last year, prefers to rely on conservative cable news hosts to understand current events. 
Alternatively, Fox News now has the role a state-run media organization might have in dictatorships.

So it goes.

Other answers in the survey give me hope that the latter is not the case:

And virtually everyone (85 percent of respondents) believed that “freedom of the press is essential for American democracy” (compared to 4 percent opposed to that statement).
Still, we are left with the dilemma that this belief contradicts the Republican plurality in the above post which would want Trump to have the authority to close down "badly behaving" news outlets.  Those would be the outlets which criticize him, after all, and the press cannot be free if it can be punished for criticizing the president.

And, of course, the continued survival of any kind of democracy also depends on safe election systems.  Right now the belief in their security is totally unwarranted.