The corporate press in America preens about being an agent of accountability for public officials. In recent years, though, many Americans have come to wonder “who watches the watchers?”
Thanks to the internet, the answer can be: everybody. Knowing this, President Trump executed a genius communication move last night by announcing his “1st Annual Fake News Awards.” While some may have laughed at the claim these were “highly anticipated,” events bore the description out as the hosting GOP website crashed for approximately two hours after the tweet (from all the incoming traffic), and on Twitter the hashtag #FakeNewsAwards trended globally (it still is as of this writing, more than 14 hours later).
Some in the press are trying to counter by pointing out the mistakes on the list were later acknowledged and corrected. And for the most part, they’re correct — while still being disingenuous. Any student of journalism knows the first copy is what gets the attention — retractions almost never get the same level of resonance. What Trump’s compilation does is remind and show overall just how sloppy/slanted/partisan the news coverage was in 2017 as the press hurried to seize on anything that might remotely make him look bad, without taking time to verify or research context. (Hint to media executives: when your only source is that another news outlet is reporting something, you’re on very shaky ground.) It is a very damning list.
By releasing the compliation on Twitter, Trump circumvented the media gatekeepers. His public stature prevents Twitter from blocking such a move, but it’s worth noting plenty of voices on the Right are being silenced deliberately there and on other prominent internet platforms. The press is working overtime to respond to Trump today, but that means they are reacting to his messaging, rather than producing their own biased news cycles. And in doing so, they are giving the compilation even more coverage, potentially showing more Americans the sum total of what the epithet “fake news” really means.
As I said, it was a genius communication move.
In desperation, some have taken to claiming that Trump’s effort to point out media errors amounts to attacking the First Amendment, and equating it to various dictators’ muzzling of opponents. This childishness trivializes the very real dangers advocates of free speech, criticism and accountability face around the world today. Let’s be blunt: the First Amendment does not provide anyone the right to print whatever they want without being challenged for it. When corporate news have to have the administration’s prior permission to run their stories, or CNN’s Jim Acosta is arrested or killed I might reevaluate the vacuousness of this whining, but not until.
I still shake my head in amazement that our nation’s reached the point where Donald Trump could become president. But as others have pointed out, he looks a lot better if you evaluate him by what he’s done, versus what he says or what’s said about him. In the meantime, Trump is showing how to play offense in this struggle, the media are getting a dose of their own medicine and it’s clear they don’t like it one little bit. To which I can only say:
It’s about time.