The Fourth Estate is At Risk, But Not Because of Trump

“A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. it must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favor.” – Nelson Mandela

I am fearful for our free press. Not because of anything that President Donald Trump has done, or is doing, but because the press itself has come to prioritize setting, not reporting on, the narrative. The fear is summed up in a headline from Wednesday’s New York Times: “Journalists, Battered and Groggy, Find a Renewed Sense of Mission.” Pardon me, but isn’t the mission to report the news? Has there been a dearth of it in recent years that I’ve been unaware of? Or are they just enamored of the idea of taking down President Trump?

Listen, no one is disputing that the last four weeks have not been smooth sailing. What is being disputed is the idea that the first four weeks of any presidency, much less one with such a different vision for government than its predecessor, goes smoothly.

The task of governing a country is difficult, but the job of fundamentally reorganizing the role and purpose of government is darn near impossible. And you can imagine the career bureaucrats and government lifers whose long-held fiefdoms are at risk aren’t exactly in a helping mood. What President Trump has taken on is like turning an aircraft carrier in a sea made of molasses with a bunch of anchors in place of a crew.

Given the circumstances, tremendous progress is being made. He’s frozen federal hiring, he’s set a path to dramatically reducing regulatory burdens, he’s approved the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines, he’s killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he’s begun the process of eliminating Obamacare’s worst elements, he’s chosen an incredible Supreme Court nominee, and he’s nominated an impressive Cabinet.

The problem is that the media hates almost all of those things. Why they even have opinions on those topics is a discussion for another day, but suffice it to say that they’ve been determined to undermine President Trump’s policy priorities by undermining the man himself.

It should come as no surprise then that Trump held a press conference this week to “take [his] message straight to the people.”

“I ran for President to represent the citizens of our country,” Trump said. “I am here to change the broken system so it serves their families and communities well.”

The “entrenched power structure,” Trump argued, is more focused on serving their own interests rather than those of average Americans. “But we’re not going to let it happen.”

The media was incredulous, seeing the president’s numerous comments about “fake news” as an attempt to chip away at their place in the world. What they seem not to realize is that they are no longer the “critical, independent and investigative press” that Mandela correctly argued is vital to democracy. Instead, they are content to lazily parrot the preferred narrative of Democrats, all the while trumping up or tamping down on scandals based on the politics of the players involved.

Their foaming at the mouth over President Trump’s accusations of “fake news” speaks volumes. After all, it was the Obama Administration that didn’t just accuse the media of bias, they actively manipulating the news media by purposefully creating fake news. Who could forget Obama national security adviser Ben Rhodes bragging to the New York Times’ about how he helped to secure the Iran nuclear deal by fabricating the narrative.

The way in which most Americans have heard the story of the Iran deal presented — that the Obama administration began seriously engaging with Iranian officials in 2013 in order to take advantage of a new political reality in Iran, which came about because of elections that brought moderates to power in that country — was largely manufactured for the purpose for selling the deal. Even where the particulars of that story are true, the implications that readers and viewers are encouraged to take away from those particulars are often misleading or false.

“All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” Rhodes told the Times. “Now. They don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”

The Obama Administration turned that to their advantage by preying on ignorant journalists. The Trump Administration excoriates the state of journalism and asks them to do better. Why do we reward the former and punish the latter? Simple: the former earned them readers while the latter cost them credibility. Not exactly the hallmark of a free press