Saturday, November 16, 2019
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Is news media an enemy of the people?

President Donald Trump barred certain big news organizations—CNN, The New York Times, and a few others—from a recent press conference, the BBC reports.


Donald Trump at CPAC, 2011 (Gage Skidmore / Flickr CC)

Mr Trump actually called the news media an “enemy of the people.” News agencies have largely denounced the label. Jeff Mason, president of the White House Correspondents Association, told the BBC that “it is damaging when the president of the United States downplays” the importance the media has in US (or any) democracy.

In terms of rhetoric, the Times said Mr Trump’s label of the news media as an enemy of the American people was reminiscent of rhetoric used in the Soviet Union during the time of Stalin, a dictator. It’s the language of “autocracy, of state nationalism” and it “is always the same regardless of the country, and no nation is exempt,” the paper quoted Nina Khrushcheva, the great-granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, who followed Stalin, as saying.

She added that, even though it was unlikely Mr Trump knew the reference to Lenin, Stalin, or Mao Zedong, the “formulas of insult, humiliation, domination, branding, enemy-forming and name calling are always the same.” The label was rejected by her great-grandfather, she said, because it was “specifically introduced for the purpose of physically annihilating such individuals” who disagreed with the supreme leader.

Of course, the most common version of Trump die-hard supporter in the rust belt hasn’t read about Lenin or Stalin either and is likely to believe Mr Trump that news organizations like NPR and the major networks print and broadcast nothing but lies. But we here take offense at the label “enemy of the people,” because it brings on fighting words.

I want to remind readers, especially student readers: There’s a huge difference between news organizations that occasionally get things wrong and “fake” news stories, which are completely made up and published with an intent to deceive. All papers, especially the daily ones, get things wrong occasionally, just because of the pressure they’re under to get a story filed. The good ones, like the New York Times, print corrections or retract bad articles completely. But the media is essential to democracy, and I have trouble moving past Mr Trump’s label here.

But it gets worse: Steve Bannon, Mr Trump’s strategist, said at the recent CPAC convention that “If you think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken. Every day, every day, it is going to be a fight.”

I wonder, who is “they” in Mr Bannon’s address, and why is a representative of the president referring to actual American citizens in the third person? And using fighting words to boot?

Rhetoric, at the end of the day, is just rhetoric, and many have argued that when you’re the president, words matter. But they matter less and less when Americans are referred to in the third person by a representative of the president.

I’d just like to know if Mr Bannon or Mr Trump even know what I mean when I say “third person.” It’s an interesting perspective, though, just to hear them talk, to peek into a little corner of how their minds are working here from our highest office.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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