By Frank Gormlie / The OB Rag
For the first time in nearly six months, today, January 11th, Donald Trump held a news conference. You remember news conferences, you know, those lop-sided but necessary events where politicians actually have to appear to answer questions from reporters. His last one had been on July 27th – almost half a year ago and none since his election.
During today’s 90 minute spectacle – which I dutifully watched – Trump actually answered some of the questions thrown at him by reporters.
Yet, one thing was instantly and crystal clear – Trump is continuing his war on the press. This press conference confirmed it.
The much-anticipated presser, ostensibly held for Trump to explain how he is distancing himself from his businesses and conflicts of interest, got off with explosive start when VP-elect Mike Pence launched salvos at Buzzfeed News and CNN – because they had published reports of a controversial dossier that was supposedly included with Trump’s intelligence briefing held last Friday.
The dossier, which contained unverified allegations that the Russians had compromising information about Trump, was authored by a former British spy now turned security consultant, Christopher Steele, who researched and wrote about Trump’s activities and connections in Russia.
Pence decried Buzzfeed and CNN as being irresponsible for circulating “fake news” and their “media bias”, and declared that “the American people are sick and tired of it.”
When Trump replaced Pence at the podium, the assault on the two media outlets continued. Trump praised the New York Times and other media for not publishing the “fake news” stories about the dossier or the allegations, and stated:
“I have great respect for the news and the freedom of the press.”
Then he launched an attack on the dossier – “sick people put the Russia dossier together” – the possibility that the intelligence community leaked it – “it’s a disgrace”, and denied any and everything that might be included in it. At one point he called Buzzfeed “a pile of garbage” for publishing the entire35 page dossier and called out CNN as “fake news”.
When Trump said that during the news conference, CNN reporter Jim Acosta, stood up and repeatedly tried to ask a rebuttal question – and Trump directly refused to take any questions from him – and looking right at him, said “You’re fake news.”
Later, CNN put out a response defending itself, and distancing itself from the left-wing Buzzfeed:
CNN’s decision to publish carefully sourced reporting about the operations of our government is vastly different than Buzzfeed’s decision to publish unsubstantiated memos. The Trump team knows this. They are using Buzzfeed’s decision to deflect from CNN’s reporting, which has been matched by the other major news organizations.
We are fully confident in our reporting. It represents the core of what the First Amendment protects, informing the people of the inner workings of their government; in this case, briefing materials prepared for President Obama and President-elect Trump last week.
We made it clear that we were not publishing any of the details of the 35-page document because we have not corroborated the report’s allegations. Given that members of the Trump transition team have so vocally criticized our reporting, we encourage them to identify, specifically, what they believe to be inaccurate.
So what all this means, is that Trump’s war on the press continues.
At the base of Trump’s assault on the press is his repeated complaints of the “bias of the liberal press” during his campaign rallies and during his “thank-you” tour more recently. And he and his surrogates continue this claim, this myth that the media and press are liberal.
And the liberal media was easy target to attack by all the Republican presidential candidates during the long campaign.
During the third Republican debate, the winning strategy was not in attacking Hillary Clinton or calling out the absurd policy plans of Donald Trump and Ben Carson, but in slamming the mainstream media as a left wing mouthpiece of the Democratic party.
Yet, the myth of the liberal press was destroyed years by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in their books and in YouTube videos of the same name. Based on case studies of major media institutions – the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Philadelphia Inquirer – Chomsky and Herman prove that the mainstream media are parts of a capitalist market system and that the media’s coverage of issues is directed by the proprietor or owner and advertiser interests, and that bottom line, the corporate media “propagandize for the corporate system.”
More recently commentators have added updated observations:
“… the “liberal media” is a myth. MSNBC was a response to FOX News, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of conservative talk radio. Not vice versa. And as Bill O’Reilly so often likes to tout, MSNBC’s ratings don’t hold a candle to FOX’s.” Daily Kos
A Salon writer asked the right question: who owns the media?
Consider this: In 1983, 90 percent of American media was owned by 50 companies, and by 2011, that number had fallen to six companies: CBS, Time Warner, Viacom, News Corp, Disney and GE, which subsequently sold its media holding, NBC Universal, to cable giant Comcast (which would, in turn, later try to merge with Time Warner Cable, although that deal eventually fell apart).
Thus, the media at large has one crucial goal: to make a profit. Not to serve the public, but to make money by selling advertisement spots to other corporations, whether they are selling new cars or tech products or pointless new drugs. All of this profit-making hardly sounds like the socialist media that Republicans would have everyone believe.
Of course, if a lie is told enough times ….
Trump’s continued assault on the press – the free press – is also evidenced by his continued assault on the truth – the stream of lies and misrepresentations that he mouths – and yes, he continued this abuse of facts even during today’s press conference. Without going into detail here, see the fact-checking by both the Washington Post and the New York Times of today’s presser.
They are connected, right? Trump’s war on the press and Trump’s war on the facts. If you don’t have a press to kick you around, then who will dispute what you say?
Robert Reich has been very good on this issue, as he has been trying to awaken the American public to the ways that the Trump has been controlling and undermining the press. He writes:
1. Berate the media and turn the public against it Trump refers to journalists as “dishonest,” “disgusting” and “scum.” When Trump lies – claiming, for example, “massive voter fraud” in the election, and that he “won in a landslide” – and the media call him on those lies, Trump claims the media is lying. Even televised satires he labels “unfunny, one-sided and pathetic.”
Reich has fine-tuned some of this and includes the blacklisting of the media as an element of turning the public against them:
Blacklist critical media. During the campaign, Trump blacklisted news outlets whose coverage he didn’t approve of. In June he pulled The Washington Post’s credentials. “Based on the incredibly inaccurate coverage and reporting of the record setting Trump campaign, we are hereby revoking the press credentials of the phony and dishonest Washington Post,” read a post on Trump’s Facebook page.
After the election Trump agreed to meet with the New York Times and then suddenly cancelled the meeting when he didn’t like the terms, tweeting “Perhaps a new meeting will be set up with the @nytimes. In the meantime they continue to cover me inaccurately and with a nasty tone!” (He then reversed himself again and met with the Times.)
2. Limit media access –
As mentioned, until today, Trump hadn’t had a news conference since July. But Reich warns:
His two predecessors had news conferences within days of being declared president. He’s blocked the media from traveling with him, and even from knowing with whom he’s meeting. His phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which occurred shortly after the election, was first reported by the Kremlin.
3. Threaten the media
This happened again today, when the CNN reporter Acosta tried to insist that Trump call on him to rebut Trump’s charge of “fake news”. Later, Acosta reported that Trump officials approached him later and warned him that if he did that again, he would be removed from future conferences.
During the campaign, Trump threatened to sue the New York Times for libel in response to an article about two women who accused him of touching them inappropriately years ago, and then another that revealed part of his 1995 tax returns. He says he plans to “open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”
4. Bypass the media and communicate with the public directly Trump tweets incessantly, issues videos, and holds large rallies – all of which further enable him to lie directly to the public with impunity. The word “media” comes from “intermediate” between the powerful and the public. The media hold the powerful accountable by correcting their misstatements, asking them hard questions and reporting on what they do. Apparently Trump wants to eliminate such intermediaries.
Historically, these four techniques have been used by demagogues to erode the freedom and independence of the press. Donald Trump seems intent on doing exactly this.
Sitting through Trump’s first press conference was a reminder of all the conflicts of interest he has, how he has ramped up his battle with the intelligence community, and all the dangers that his regime represents. And a reminder of how much we really need a true independent and free press.