Well that escalated quickly. The war between President Trump and the media ramped up this week after numerous (read: anti-Trump) outlets were barred from an informal white house press briefing, including CNN, the New York Times and the BBC. Cue predictable outrage, a deluge of first amendment tweets and a lot of conservative eye rolling. This p̶u̶n̶i̶s̶h̶m̶e̶n̶t̶ incident conveniently occurred the day after some accusatory stories surfaced about the White House colluding with the FBI on Russia. Trump has a habit of delegitimizing his detractors via Twitter but he decided to go one step further with the “enemy of the American people” by hitting them where it hurts: access. Overall, the war has gotten so bad that Trump has RSVP’d “nope” to the White House Correspondents Dinner – the last president who didn’t attend was Reagan, with the fairly good excuse of recovering from an assassination attempt. And while it’s all fun and games until someone turns America into a dictatorship, a free – and yes sometimes adversarial – press is fundamental to a healthy (read: accountable) democracy.
The irony of a media personality who craves media coverage while using the media to attack the legitimacy of the media is probably lost to only a few. But it also points to something more sinister. President Trump has a proven pattern of manipulating facts, and thus people, for political gain – this might be called fake news or alternative facts these days, but it also goes by another name: propaganda. From General Michael Flynn’s misleading statements about his dealings with Russian officials to Kellyanne Conway’s “Bowling Green Massacre” story to President Trump’s repeated outright lies about his inauguration crowds, voter fraud and national crime rates (among many, many others) it seems propaganda and disinformation has reached very disturbing levels and is actually starting to create an alternative reality where facts are debated and opinions are law.
Of course anyone with internet access can tell you that attacks on the press, careful messaging and stretching the truth isn’t new to politics. The difference with the Trump administration is the magnitude and frequency of the lies. Trump believes that if he says something enough times it will stick – and he’s not wrong. With the power of the White House at his back, a loyal right-wing media army on his side and his Twitter account literally at his fingertips, Trump is a one-man propaganda giant. Now here’s the kicker – Trump wouldn’t be as successful at this if he wasn’t already capitalizing on high levels of media distrust and lower levels of critical thinking. Yep – it’s your fault. Unfortunately, lies are exhausting to fight, spread like a virus and are almost impossible to correct if they resonate strongly enough with people’s own beliefs. Thus a multi-pronged approach is needed here: educating people to distinguish between the lies and the truth is just as important as challenging Trump and rejecting his propaganda. And unfortunately the truth is far more fragile than anyone wants to admit – and that’s no lie.
Feel like the government is sitting on a throne of lies? Movie for your mood: Labyrinth of Lies.