As an aspiring journalist and student of media, I am concerned about Donald Trump. I am not afraid of him – as a general rule, fear is antithetical to journalism – but I am troubled. His continued verbal assaults against outlets such as the Washington Post, the New York Times, Vanity Fair and other publications have kept me in a constant state of unease regarding the future of the Fourth Estate. Most recently, Trump’s televised shouting match with CNN’s Jim Acosta illustrated the stark reality of being a reporter in the Trump era: war has been declared on the free press, and the press has been caught unaware.
Acosta tried to ask a question at Trump’s first press conference in months, and Trump responded by yelling in an attempt to quiet him. To Acosta’s credit, he refused to retreat, but Trump kept speaking as loudly as possible: “Your organization’s terrible,” “Don’t be rude,” “You are fake news.” Afterwards, incoming Press Secretary Sean Spicer confronted Acosta “angrily pointing his finger as he spoke” and “threatened to throw him out” of the next press conference if Acosta attempts to have his question answered, per the Washington Post. The reason for Trump’s animosity toward the network stems from a CNN story discussing an unsubstantiated dossier stating that Russia holds incriminating information on Trump. The dossier was presented to President Obama as well as Trump in intelligence briefings. Nothing published by CNN was false.
This is unprecedented behavior by a president-elect or president in a press conference. But it should not be surprising to journalists, as Trump’s entire candidacy and existence as a politician has survived unparalleled comportment – his supposed gaffes, insults to the military, insults to women, really insults to every American group except white men, somehow only strengthened him. Therefore, it is useless to compare Trump to someone like Obama, the even-keeled, well-measured press conference performer, because if Obama had ever been as immature and petty as Trump was on Jan. 11, he would have been skewered as “unpresidential.” That being said, examining how the press dealt with Obama’s tenure can clue in journalists on how to handle Trump.
In 2013, news organizations from Fox to CBS to NBC organized an “immediate meeting” with the Obama administration following charges of censorship. 17 journalists from sundry media outlets met last year to discuss how to handle Hillary Clinton’s limited press access. Additionally, and even more incredible, is how other outlets rallied around Fox News in 2009 when the White House slighted them for their (admittedly terrible/unfair) coverage of his presidency: “The other television news networks showed solidarity by staging a ‘revolt’ and boycotting their scheduled interviews,” Media Matters wrote of the phenomenon. Where is this solidarity now? Why is the press acting as if it’s been ambushed? My guess is they are holding onto their relationship with Trump and his team with white knuckles. Trump masterfully complimented every news organization besides CNN and Buzzfeed to open his press conference, perhaps quelling dissent among the other outlets.
It is time for the newsmen and women of this country to act as a team, to disregard their silly competitions for ratings and readers and to ally themselves in time for battle.
Shephard Smith of Fox News was a part of a small but positive trend following Trump’s outburst – reporters who chose to defend Acosta and CNN. Smith, and other journalists who took to Twitter to voice their dismay, laid the groundwork for how the press might work together during Trump’s time in power. To end his broadcast, he said something that unfortunately, nowadays, needs saying: “…neither CNN nor any other journalists should be subjected to belittling and delegitimizing by the President-elect of the United States.”
CNN has stood with Acosta, saying he has their complete support. This is a strong rebuke of Trump’s tyrannical antics against the press that other news outlets should join in. I must note that CNN has not given up holding Trump accountable, circulating a story about how “Rep. Tom Price last year purchased shares in a medical device manufacturer days before introducing legislation that would have directly benefited the company, raising new ethics concerns for President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for Health and Human Services secretary.”
The media cannot capitulate to Trump. There seems to be too much information out there he doesn’t want people to read. That is why he falsely accuses CNN of being “fake news,” when it is in fact right wing, fake news blogs that helped Trump on his way to the White House. The propaganda and repeated lies spewing forth from Trump is why America needs great journalists right now. Those who work to discredit the labor of the press must get their priorities straight. You’re telling me that you’re going to trust politicians, lying politicians, over the people who are supposed to make sure they’re telling the truth? COME ON! This is a symptom of our digital age. Like a president who runs the world from Twitter, there are so many options for people on where to get their news that they can custom tailor it to their ideology. But like Trump, we’ve taken to calling everything, including the truth, “fake.” When truth is in disrepute, misguided trust is attracted to the loudest voice. The media collective must raise theirs.
Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.