Over the past two weeks, the American media have been assigned a big story - an avalanche of executive orders from President Donald Trump. The bulk of the headlines were about the travel ban temporarily blocking travellers, including refugees, from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
Many people within in the US are now reinvesting in the mainstream media and re-legitimising it, hoping that the mainstream media is really one of the key institutions right now, that can hold this administration's feet to the fire.
The resulting protests got a lot of coverage, the tone of which is worth exploring. The mainstream media coverage was tinged with outrage. But it came with its own baggage. Because anyone paying attention to the American news media, post 9/11, would find it difficult to escape the conclusion that the media themselves laid more than a little of the groundwork upon which today's anti-Muslim sentiment was built. Whether they did it for reasons that were ideological or simply commercial is beside the point: the "War on Terror" narrative would not have prevailed the way it did in the US without the complicity of the American news media. And it's upon that fear narrative the new White House is now capitalising.
It was as though the anti-Trump movement got an executive order to hit the streets. And unlike the demonstrations that came before, starting on Inauguration Day, scheduled and organised, the ones provoked by the travel ban were spontaneous, unplanned. They provided a visual feast for the news cameras.
When thousands mobilised and posted on social media, the media followed and "reporters then went to the airports and it became a story that didn't die," says Muslim American journalist Wajahat Ali.
But the administration is keeping the media and the people "on their toes," says author Elizabeth Anker. "The media is also struggling to cover this flurry and to try to understand what each executive order is doing. Who is it going to benefit? Who it's going to harm? And by the time they even get a handle on one, a new one has cropped up."
The Trump administration seems eager to make the media the story. The president dismissed CNN's work again this week, with his adviser Kellyanne Conway asking aloud on the airwaves when news outlets will fire reporters who were "wrong" about Trump. And chief of staff Steve Bannon continues to berate the New York Times, among others.
Bannon is telling the media to "shut up", and "if you oppose our agenda in any way we're gonna be hostile to you, and we're gonna cut off access to you and you are quote the opposition party," says Ali.
Controlling the message is a tactic the administration is comfortable using. "If you completely discredit the media and the people who are supposed to be guardians of the facts and disseminate true information, the only other source of information is you. Sean Spicer also said in one of his earliest press conferences that the Trump administration was going to be a check on the media. The media is supposed to serve as the fourth estate. It's supposed to serve as a check on power. The White House checking the media, that's just fascism, that's authoritarianism, almost pure and simple," says journalist Sydney Brownstone.
Contributors: Wajahat Ali, journalist; Elisabeth Anker, author, "Orgies of Feeling: Melodrama and the Politics of Freedom;" and Sydney Brownstone, journalist.
Source: Al Jazeera