By Buddy Early, December 2019 Issue.
When the buffoon who currently occupies The White House moves out — whether that’s in January of 2021 or sooner — this nation can start to pick up the pieces.
There will be a ton of damage to clean up, too much to go into detail here, but we’ll recover … eventually. One of the filthiest legacies Trump will leave is the crap he takes on our basic freedoms, and of particular concern to me is the mud he throws against journalists.
If this heavy-handed trash metaphor is not clear enough, what I’m trying to say is Trump is human garbage. Fight me on this!
The history books are full of presidents who have had difficult relationships with the media. Many have not appreciated the way they were portrayed, sought to restrict access and hide information, tried to manipulate and/or control the press, and even played the victim. (Sound familiar?) But no one, not even Richard Nixon, went as far as Trump goes regularly: vilifying the professionals in the media; threatening to jail and even beat up, as well as inciting violence against reporters; successfully turning his slack-jawed followers against the media and convincing them that the media is evil; and, of course, employing his ”fake news” mantra every time a news story is unfavorable to him. (So, a lot.)
Until 2016, I never knew that simply uttering the phrase “fake news!” was enough to convince people that something wasn’t true. Then again, I had no idea Morgan Freeman made all those intelligent, poignant comments floating around the Internet next to his photo. But here we are.
Trump’s foolish use (and overuse) of the phrase is just another reason why his time in The White House will be remembered like that home invasion in The Prince of Tides that nobody talks about for decades but for which we all need therapy later in life. Still, the true perpetrators of this assault on the media are not the ones shouting “fake news,” but rather the gullible populace that believes it.
The proliferation of extreme right-wing news sites — Breitbart, Drudge Report, National Review, InfoWars, and about a hundred other propaganda outlets across radio, television and Internet — have given Trump’s disciples an incurable case of Confirmation Bias. These folks believe whatever they read on these inflammatory, poorly-designed websites, because it confirms the bias they already have. They don’t believe facts, and they certainly have no understanding of or appreciation for the institution of journalism. Trump, his followers, and the right-wing media have been stuck in this gross circle jerk for the past three-plus years, and while we can’t stop it, we can certainly stop giving it any attention.
Yes, I know that Confirmation Bias is a symptom of the far left, too. You can save your emails arguing your false equivalency, however, as there are but a fraction of these “news” sites compared to the far right. Not to mention there exists a fundamental difference: the far left, for its extremism and penchant for overreacting to almost everything, actually respects reporting, journalism, the freedom of the press, and the goal of getting to the truth. (Again, fight me on this. It’s widely known where I hang out on the weekends to watch football.)
So, what can we do to help protect the First Amendment until Trump is behind a jail cell or hiding out overseas while his minions have been left behind in that circle jerk rubbing one out to his photo? For starters, we can all call bullshit to anyone who yells “fake news!” (I mean, unless it’s a story from The Onion or such site.) Real news is, well, real and not fake, and people who yell the phrase need to be shamed. We can be stewards of accurate information. That means being careful of the news we are digesting and regurgitating, making sure we are skeptical of stories that may infect us with Confirmation Bias. We can stop sharing memes without considering the source and/or doing our own fact-checking. We can recognize that any time a headline says a talking head has “destroyed” someone else’s argument, it’s not so much news as it is opinion.
And when Huffington Post says “The cast of Family Ties no longer looks like this” — don’t fall for it!
In this current state of the nation, it’s not enough that journalists keep producing honest, factual news. It’s all of our responsibility to demand it.