In my home, journalism has always been revered as a shrine to truth and justice throughout the free world. My Dad was many things in his life—a track star, a naval commander, a real estate agent, a property appraiser, a homebuilder, and a gardener. But no matter what his profession was at the time, whenever he was asked what he did for a living he proudly stated that he was—first and foremost—“a newspaperman”.
Dad’s love of writing and journalism has remained with me throughout my life. This multi-layered journalism background is why I’m deeply concerned about President Trump’s continuing onslaught on our nation’s Fourth Estate.
The signs of Trump’s self-professed “war on the media” are both ubiquitous and ominous. Many times during his campaign, he accused the press of “rigging the election” and being comprised of—I’m paraphrasing here—inveterate liars and some of the most dishonest people on Earth. We can only assume that he’s doing this to distract public opinion—at least those of his base—away from all the lies that continuously spew from his lips.
In just his first 100 days in office, Trump has already demonstrated his proclivity for this media mind control technique. He kept insisting that his was the largest inaugural crowd ever assembled, even though aerial photo comparisons clearly showed that the 2009 crowd for President Obama’s inauguration was significantly larger. At the same time, Trump continually espoused that voter fraud produced more than three million illegal votes, which was why he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. More recently he went on a Twitter Rant about how President Obama wire-tapped Trump Tower during the 2016 election campaign. Of course, there is not a shred of evidence to support any of his specious claims.
So what is Trump hoping to do accomplish with his dishonest bluster? From an historical context, analyses of the rises to power of most authoritarian regimes, oligarchies, and dictatorships reveal a distinct trail of innuendos, falsehoods, and blatant lies (and now “alternative facts”) that were repeated over and over again. The assumption being that if a person in power consistently keeps saying the same things—no matter how wrong or intentionally incorrect they are—eventually the majority of people will start believing them.
In a January 26, 2017 NPR interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, British journalist Luke Harding provides a personal look at how such a trail of deceit actually works. In the interview, Harding discloses this deep understanding of the mindset of current Russian President Vladimir Putin that seems to reflect Trump’s thinking: “[Putin] wants to turn the clock back to an age of great powers, to almost an imperial era of the 19th century, where strong sovereign nations didn’t talk about values or human rights or anything like that. They cut deals, they had summits, they made grand bargains … and they divvied up, they divided the world into spheres of influence.”
Next, Harding provided this now eerily familiar description of Putin’s propensity for creating and spreading false stories or so-called fake news: “The goal is essentially to persuade some people that the Kremlin’s view of events is true, but also to kind of confuse and bamboozle everybody else by floating conspiracy theories, so (that) there are 10 different explanations for an event. … It’s clever because it actually allows the Russian regime to get away with all sorts of things.”
Whether or not Putin’s logic forms the basis for Trump’s current fight with the press is open to debate. But consider this: On January 27, 2017, Steve Bannon—Trump’s Chief Strategist—proclaimed that the press needs to, “Keep its mouth shut and just listen,” while labeling the media as “the opposition party” and “enemies of the state.” Under typical White House protocol, the assumption must be that these statements either came directly from or were approved by President Trump. Either way, such remarks—coming out of the Executive Office of the President of the United States—are very disturbing and downright threatening to the protection of our civil liberties.
The take away from this? Trump either harbors some objectives that most of us would consider inconceivable for occurring in the U.S., or he is just a paranoid, super-egotistical man who thinks he can do no wrong. For the sake of preserving the future of our precious Fourth Estate and—with it—our democratic freedoms, let’s hope the latter supposition is true! We must never let the Trump Administration put out the journalistic torch of truth that burns deep within our collective psyche.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
– Welsh Poet Dylan Thomas, 1947
Budd Titlow is a professional wildlife biologist, wetland scientist, nature photographer, and author of four books. His most recent book is PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change.