Donald Trump’s war on the media

Attacks on media from US politicians is nothing new, but the Republican candidate is taking the hostility to new levels.

Republican U.S presidential nominee Donald Trump is shown on TV monitors in the media filing room during the last 2016 U.S. presidential debate in Las Vegas
Trump has accused the media of rigging the election for his opponent, Hillary Clinton [Jim Urquhart/Reuters]

The media pen at a Trump rally can sometimes be an uncomfortable place to be.

We’re easy to spot, with the cameras and the lights and the computers and the cables.

And normally, we’re smack bang in the middle of the hall to give us the best position to film the candidate.

That makes us the focus of those who believe Donald Trump when he claims the media is biased.

And makes us easy targets.

I’ve tried engaging with the people who shout. They have a grievance. I’d like to hear what it is.

Trump slams the media for ‘bias’

But they just want to talk over me.

At first it was just calls and chants of “Do your job”. Then it moved on to cries of “You suck” while we were broadcasting.

Now they openly swear and hurl abuse.

I asked one woman if she was aware of my work, the reports on TV, the blogs I’d written.

She honestly admitted she was not. It didn’t matter. “The media is all anti-Trump,” she said dismissively.

Suspicion of the media is not confined to the Republicans. It’s just where I’ve spent most time.

A recent Gallup poll revealed just one in three Americans have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the media.

Attacks on the media from US politicians is nothing new.

Lyndon Johnson thought the media spent too much time highlighting the realities of the Vietnam War rather than accepting the rosier official version.

Richard Nixon thought the media was biased against him and sent his Vice President Spiro Agnew on the attack. In a famous speech, he called the news media “the nattering nabobs of negativism”.

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There’s always concern about how the American media covers politics, but Trump has taken this to a new level.

His open hostility towards the media, calling them “dishonest” and “liars” and saying they are rigging the election for his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

He used to call out reporters individually. Now it’s everyone.

And that creates a mob mentality, a collective invective against journalists who become perceived as the enemy.

The atmosphere towards the media is poisonous. And it’s only getting worse.

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It is a tactic of political intimidation.

Famously, four years ago a senior figure in Mitt Romney’s campaign told the media: “We are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

It’s not a surprising position given campaigns spend millions of dollars telling voters what they should believe.

And neither side want to hear things that could possibly paint their candidate in a bad light.

The Trump team has taken its own steps to sidestep the “crooked” media. They’ve begun broadcasting an evening show on Facebook where partisans can talk unchallenged, unfiltered and unhindered.

It’s picking up an audience in the tens of thousands.

It has a place in the media landscape. But here’s the worry.

Politics in the US has become tribal. It’s nasty and bitter and people seek out media outlets which confirm their views rather than challenge them. They want to work with their own facts.

Strong democracies need a robust media. It should challenge the powerful, question campaigns, and yes, even check facts.

It may make candidates uncomfortable. It may lead them to incite and fire up their supporters.

But it’s a job that needs to be done.

And no matter how loud you shout, how angry you get – we’re not going to go away.

The Listening Post: Journalism in a post-fact era

Source: Al Jazeera