The Press and the Presidency
Jason Criss Howk
26 November 2017
Unless you live under a rock, you have likely noticed that the current president has been sparring vigorously with the majority of the press in America. Unfortunately, many in the press have taken the bait and are making this rift look like a 3rd grade playground fight over who gets to play with the tetherball.
Is this good for the country? Is this good for the Presidency? Is this healthy for the 1st amendment and the media as a profession? Is it what Americans want?
I would argue no on all these questions, although the last one is debatable.
Let’s be honest this didn’t start with President Trump. Left wing media outlets despised Bush. Right wing media outlets despised Obama. Is it any wonder that left wing outlets are critical of Trump while the right wing ones are cheering for him? It is the unfortunate state of our press today that is a big part of the problem. Our press needs to stop cheering for one party and disparaging the other.
Is it good for the Presidency when a president starts fighting on a weekly or daily basis with some of the press? I don’t think it is. It’s not what Presidents are supposed to be focused on and the press is supposed to play a critical role in our nation…informing the citizens with facts. But in this case, what would you do if the press was saying things like this about you on an hourly basis?
“Off the rails”
“Using the White House”
“This is the horror of Donald Trump”
I get it. Presidents don’t want to get beat up by the press every day, every hour, every minute. BUT the president should rise above the critics— in theory. But it’s hard to do and more and more American citizens want the president to fight back against the press. Left wingers wanted Obama to belittle Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. Today Right wingers want Trump to fight back against CNN and MSNBC.
It would be best for our nation if our president just ignored the critics and did his job. That can’t happen while the press sees themselves as a tool to bludgeon the president and the political ideas he supports. They should see themselves as a sacred tool to inform the populace with facts so that the citizens can vote with intelligence.
Childish sparring between the press and the president is not good for our first amendment freedom or for the profession of journalism. The citizens may be disappointed in the Presidency but they are more angry at congress and the press. So the media needs to do some soul searching too. Journalism must admit its failures and repair its image. It’s a bad image. Unshackling itself from political ideologies is a start. The majority of American media members are progressives politically and that is their choice. Unfortunately, that comes out loud and clear in their coverage, editing, and opining.
If our press can’t become a non-ideological information source I think they are doomed to be beaten up by all future presidents. Just as Obama bashed Fox at every opportunity and Trump tweets about CNN, our next president will pick a media bogey man to disparage.
Politically motivated press is also a sign of the end of our democratic republic. This experiment can’t succeed if our press fails to fulfill its role. I speak nationally about Islam and I get lots of political questions. The scariest one that comes up in every audience is “is there anyone in the press I can trust?” Americans want to know they can trust the press to give them facts without an ideological filter. They don’t trust the press and with so many media sources are struggling to figure out what is fact and what is fiction.
There is no doubt that Americans do like biased media outlets. Just look at the number of people making a living as political commentators and entertainment talk radio hosts.
There is also a strong call for fact based news and unbiased reporting. Americans want a media they can trust again. Americans want a president that doesn’t need to fight with the press on a daily basis.
So maybe we can recover. Maybe the newsrooms can stop choosing stories based on their political leanings. Maybe presenters and writers can pass facts to the American people without a bias in support of their own agenda. Maybe the president can restore the dignity to the Presidency that has been steadily lost over the last few decades.
But I am not hopeful on this one. I talk to the press weekly. Like an alcoholic in denial they mostly refuse to admit they have a problem. They point to president instead and claim he is the real problem.
Unless both the press and the Presidency can admit this is unhealthy and commit to reforming their flaws this will not change….and the American people and our great experiment with freedom will be the victims of this unprofessionalism.