US President is very angry on media. Media is called fourth estate in democracy. In the fast moving information age, media has immense power to affect people’s choices- sometimes based on truth and facts and sometimes by their capacity to propagate a certain ideology, agenda or propaganda. But media is not a neutral entity. It has its own interest because it is owned by corporate houses with a profit motive and some of them have ideological leanings as well. Nevertheless, apart from breaking news and sensationalism, there is section in media which follows professional ethics, offers a platform of debates and discussion and also helps people in forming educated opinions. Media brings truth, even when it does not intend because competition and ideological leanings push them to find hidden dimensions of an event. But media cannot be relied upon without scrutiny. Free media competes in both truth and propaganda. It does both- bringing out the truth and propagation of propaganda. But at any time there also exists professionally serious and committed media. In a democracy educated people are free to choose what they want to read and see and which ideology or policy they support. Thus free media is better than regulated media. But the US President thinks that all sections of media should support him in all his policy initiative without scrutiny and criticism. It is neither desirable nor is it going to happen for political and other reasons.
In fact US President is not angry on all the sections of media. He is cool on the sections which buy his ideas and favour and publicise his policies. He says that media is perpetrating untruth and lies. He admonishes the media as the “enemy of the people.” But there is another side. His administration is also happy with select parts of the media – especially those that share and reinforce Trump’s own world view. They are not only trusted friends, but are at times, converging with the voice of the administration itself. This is, however, not good for the role of the media as the fourth estate.
Truth is not only what suits the interest of a political party or a leader.
If the leaders have a tendency of one-upmanship so much so that anything that is critical or alternative of their view becomes a conspiracy or untrustworthy then the very spirit of democracy dies whatever be the margin of his electoral victory. Media stands for a healthy scrutiny. And if a leader is afraid of scrutiny, surely his conscience is not clear. People’s mandate is not tested only in elections.
There is other dimension also. When statesmen start borrowing ideas from media or basing their visions on media of their choice or popular websites, there is a danger of losing sight of reality. In an increasingly polarised media landscape, many people live in bubbles – only reading and watching things that confirm our world view. This is more about finding confirmation of our beliefs or obsessions rather than “weighing” or “evaluating” something to find the truth or right course. Some analysts opine that in Trump’s case, the bubble is shaping the country’s agenda and the chaotic atmosphere.
Josephine Tovey writes in this regard in the Sunday Morning Herald: Sweden’s leaders were dumbfounded – there had been no terror attack or major incident. But only if you’d watched the conservative pundit Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox the night before, would you have any idea what the commander-in-chief was talking about – an incendiary segment linking immigration to crime in the Scandinavian country. This was not a first. In fact, a huge number of Trump’s outbursts and falsehoods can be linked to something he saw on television or on one of his preferred websites.
In January, Trump lashed out seemingly randomly at Chelsea Manning, the recently-pardoned Wikileaks whistle blower, calling her an “ungrateful traitor” on Twitter. It came shortly after a segment about Manning on Fox accompanied by a chyron (the “headline” at the bottom of the screen) that read “ungrateful traitor”. A day earlier, Trump threatened to “send in the feds” to deal with gun violence in Chicago – shortly after a Fox segment about precisely the possibility of federal government intervention in the city. It’s not only Fox that fires up the President. Several of his most egregious claims in recent months have come from or mirror those on America’s most prominent conspiracy website Infowars – which is perhaps best known for pushing the lie that the Sandy Hook school massacre was a hoax. …. Infowars, which has had Trump on as a guest, ran a series of stories claiming the mainstream media was ignoring terrorist attacks or covering up the Islamist links of perpetrators before Trump made his extraordinary claim this month that the “dishonest press” didn’t want to report such attacks because they had their “reasons” (wink wink, tip the tinfoil hat). The website also pushed the idea that three million “illegals” had voted in the November election before Trump began to push that very notion.”
According to BBC Mr Trump had attacked the media at a press conference on February 16, as pressure mounted on his presidency. His national security adviser Michael Flynn quit earlier in the week. More recently in a rally President Trump said in Melbourne, Florida that reporters “are part of the corrupt system”. When he attacked the media, people in the audience screamed their support. Describing the media as “dishonest”, he repeated his assertion that some outlets “don’t want to report the truth” and were making up their stories about him.
“We will continue to expose them,” he said, pledging to “win, win, win”.
In his speech, the president also:
- Repeated his campaign pledge to keep America “safe” and said the country would “have strong borders again”
- Said Americans would have “a great healthcare plan” and Obama reforms would be repealed
- Stressed that the White House was running “so smoothly”, dismissing claims that his administration was in disarray
- Promised to “downsize the bloated bureaucracy” and “drain the swamp” in Washington
- Said a plan would be developed to “totally destroy” so-called Islamic State
- Promised to create more jobs in the US and rebuild the country’s military
It is unusual for a sitting president to hold a rally in the style of those held during election campaigns.
Then after the controversial press conference, Mr. Trump’s team conducted a survey (February 17), which media experts described as a technically unsound and also politically motivated survey to solicit desired answers. The survey asked participants to weigh in on the media’s bias against Trump, on issues like immigration, religion, the economy, and his presidency as a whole. Fair enough. However, as many critics on social media pointed out, the survey’s wording was often loaded, not to mention confusing. Any other critiques aside, questions like these are not the way to get scientific results. “A lot of these questions are designed in a way to confirm a particular hypothesis,” says Carey Morewedge, an associate professor of marketing at Boston University. “They basically are suggesting there is a correct answer.”The online questionnaire called the Mainstream Media Accountability Survey or Trump Survey had questions like – Do you believe that the mainstream media has reported unfairly on our movement?”; Were you aware that a poll was released revealing that a majority of Americans actually supported President Trump’s temporary restriction executive order?”; Do you believe that contrary to what the media says, raising taxes does not create jobs?”; Do you believe that people of faith have been unfairly characterized by the media?”; Do you agree with President Trump’s media strategy to cut through the media’s noise and deliver our message straight to the people?”All these questions according to the analysts were framed in such a manner so as people believe that Donald Trump is savior and the answers lie in his policies only. Carolyn Dicey Jennings, a philosopher at University of California, Merced points out that many of these questions—at least 16 of the 25—are framed in a way that signals to the reader that they are meant to be answered yes. This leads to what psychologists call acquiescence bias. Jennings says a better way of framing the question would be something like, “How has the media reported on the GOP movement?” and have response choices on a scale that runs from “fairly” to “unfairly”. Daniel Oppenheimer, a psychologist at UCLA who’s written a book about the flaws in elections, pointed out that the survey was doing what is called “push polling”—trying to convey some information rather than asking people what they think. “This is not an attempt to get information about the media, but to sway opinions.” One of the questions also takes advantage of what psychologists call ‘the bandwagon effect’—if others believe it, then you should. Jennings points out that this question is suggesting that everyone else already supports Trump’s executive order. Other questions in the survey use the same technique, but instead use an authority figure (the president) to start the bandwagon.
The attack on media is not new.
In the past autocratic leaders and dictators are known to have banned media. Also media is highly regulated in present Russia and China. Democracy needs free media to scrutinize government policies and form public opinion. But if leaders control media and freedom of expression, it is dangerous to the future of democracy. Undoubtedly Trump needs a fair deal from media, but his own overtures and loudmouth is often taken as a reason for his criticism. He has a tendency to describe all his political opponents, especially democrats as corrupt. Even his republican critics are not taken by him as constructive. Although after centuries of mature democracy, the American system would not be amenable to autocracy, yet he wants to utilize his presidential authority without checks and balances to have final writ on each and everything. He does not want to allow any alternate idea. But his efforts are not yielding space to him for one-upmanship or megalomania. A new poll from Quinnipiac University suggests that while people may be broadly unhappy with the mainstream media, they still think it’s more credible than Trump. The president regularly accuses the press of “fake news,” but people see more “fake news” coming out of his own mouth. The poll asked who registered voters “trust more to tell you the truth about important issues.” A majority — 52 percent — picked the media. Just 37 percent picked Trump.
Studies and surveys on media credibility may have premeditated objectives- whether they support Trump’s way of looking on media or otherwise. But the gold standard is that the variety of opinion in media offers alternative visions to choose from and also allows the policy makers and implementers opportunities for course correction. Throttling or gagging free speech and alternative visions is an undemocratic way and more an un-American way. For policy makers, especially when self righteousness and one-upmanship is the trait of a leader or political party, debate and discussion, is a hurdle in drafting and implementing policies based on their skewed world view. They do not feel it productive to indulge in reaching consensus. But in such a scenario, the main victims are people and democracy both. Rationality and reason is overpowered by whims and fancies. But such short sighted views may be disruptive, which is considered good in business, we need to care and not bully alternative views in nation making or leading the world.