With control freak, freedoms at risk
On July 25, as the White House reporter for CNN, Kaitlan Collins had been doing her job of posing questions to Donald Trump in the oval office regarding his reaction to his former lawyer Michael Cohen’s tapes, relevant to the news of the day.
She was told afterward that her questions were “inappropriate.” A more accurate adjective would be “uncomfortable.” Public figures, including and especially the POTUS, are asked uncomfortable questions all the time — it is because they are public figures that they are accountable to the people. Reporters have the job — the responsibility — to the people to be their eyes and ears.
Most presidents have accepted this, some admitting to annoyance but affirming the importance of the free press to democracy. A Thomas Jefferson quote, “The only security of all is in a free press.” showed his understanding of that, even though he sometimes expressed his disagreement. In a memorable interview, following the Bay of Pigs disaster and intense criticism in the press, JFK said that the press is an invaluable arm of the presidency even though unpleasant at times.
He said Kruschev’s totalitarianism is at a terrific disadvantage not having the press to inform and pressure him, and the job cannot be done at all in a free society without an active press. More recently George W Bush, in a post-Trump inauguration interview, said the media is “indispensable to democracy.” And our 44th president, Barack Obama, said this: “We have to uphold a free press and freedom of speech — because, in the end, lies and disinformation are no match for the truth.” What sets his successor apart from the others is the intentional manipulation of our information, using to his advantage all the modern communication technology available, especially twitter. Others criticized, but did not interfere.
The free press, now more often referred to as the media, is the vehicle which transports the news. As with automobiles, the media comes in different forms and appeals to different tastes. Also as in the auto industry, the news industry has increased in the quantity of choices along with a wider range of quality of choices — difficult choices to make.
We realize that many news outlets are funded by wealthy special interests who will promote their biases, which are extreme in some cases. We as consumers have the right to pick and choose where we get our information, just as we have the right to decide what car or truck to drive. But, when the POTUS starts customizing the vehicle, changing parts, throwing out originals and installing his own, telling us “Don’t buy that model — this one is the best,” we lose our freedom of choice.
When he repeatedly and deliberately misconstrues, embellishes, stigmatizes, bifurcates, and lies, he is replacing the original parts (facts) with his customized parts. If he continues, his aim will be achieved – we will all be driving the same car, and it will be a Trumpmobile. Our free press will become a state-run press. We will have no alternative sources to decide for ourselves if we are hearing the truth or not. This is what happens when people conform and let authoritarianism creep in.
We have a man in charge who is extremely sensitive to any criticism, who carries grudges, who retaliates (threatening to revoke security clearances of a specific list of officials who had shown criticism toward him), and who values loyalty above expertise and moral principles. For example, he has held a grudge against CNN and attacks that news source repeatedly: depicting himself at a wrestling match smashing CNN to the floor, tweeting a cartoon of a Trump train hitting a CNN reporter, and regularly mocking CNN reporters there to cover his rallies, invoking a “fake news” rise from his crowd. His recent Tampa, Fla., rally produced chants of “CNN sucks”. Shouldn’t our POTUS be expected to maintain a certain level of dignity and decorum? Not when entertainment gets a better response. We should be demanding more than that.
Why these attempts to discredit CNN in particular? CNN was the first to report on the existence of classified documents regarding Russia having compromising information on the president-elect. At the subsequent press conference, he refused the CNN reporter’s question and began calling them “fake news,” However, they were not responsible for publishing the specifics, which were later revealed by Buzzfeed to be the Steele dossier, but he still blames them. So last week, Collins, the CNN reporter who asked “inappropriate” questions, was banned from an open press event in the rose garden. Current White House deputy director of communications and former FOX (Favorite Of eXecutive) boss, Bill Shine, conveyed the punishment.
In addition to his persistence in vilifying one news outlet and praising another, Trump has stretched the truth in verifiable tabulations in the thousands, and these are echoed by his official press secretary’s comments. An even more ominous fracture of reality has been caught by the news. A part of the official White House transcript and corresponding video of the Putin press conference was erased. A reporter asked “Did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?” Putin responded, “Yes I did, yes I did, because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.” Had this not been discovered by the news media and brought to our attention, an altered record of the event would be the official history, a significant part being left out, an admission by the Russian leader that he authorized the influence of the election. How many more records have been, or will be, altered?
This resembles Orwellian dystopia. This erodes democracy and leads to authoritarianism. If we can’t trust or believe what we see and hear, we lose our tenuous hold on our individual ability to judge and decide. We give up and give in. Yes, all politicians lie – the old adage – but this is progressive erosion of our right to the truth. We need to stay vigilant, proactive, and engaged. We need to VOTE for trustworthy candidates who reflect our views and who are accountable to us, not to the influences of the powerful.
In conclusion, a few words from our sponsors:
¯ “Based on the fact that no president has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the democrats.” — Trump tweet July 24 (following Putin saying the opposite on public record, but not White House record).
¯ “Don’t believe that crap.” — Trump to VFW national convention July 24.
¯ “Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening” — Trump also July 24.
¯ “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” — George Orwell, ‘1984″ published 1949
¯ “We’ll leave the gaslight on for you” — CNN, Road to Authoritarianism
CNN gets the last word.
Susan Bigler is a Sheridan resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org