January 31, 2017
Trump versus the Media
by Mike Minehan
It seems that the new President of the United States is happiest when he has an enemy to attack. His fans also love this pugilism, perhaps because this is the feeling of being in the thick of it together, us against them.
‘Them’ in this case is the mainstream media in America, mainly the big outlets such as the New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN.
It suits Trump to berate the media, because these news media were quick to point out his inaccuracies, contradictions and falsehoods during his election campaign.
Almost all of Trump’s rallies were an opportunity to attack the media. “I would never kill them, but I do hate them. And some of them are such lying, disgusting people.” This was Trump’s opinion about journalists at one of his campaign rallies.
Yet one of the most interesting discoveries about Trump’s ascent to the Presidency of the USA is that alternative media, not conventional media, played the most important role in his success. The proof of this, according to Fortune magazine was because the flood of articles and coverage about Trump’s outrageous behaviour, had almost no effect on most of the voters. These were the stories about his falsehoods, his refusal to publish his tax returns, his companies that were ethically challenged, his refusal to place his businesses in a blind trust, and his boasting about sexually groping women.
Trump’s support base simply wasn’t reading or consuming conventional media. This is probably not so much because these supporters couldn’t read, but because they were getting their information from the myriad of new sources that the internet has made available.
“What Trump supporters were listening to was Trump himself on Twitter, and organs of the Trump Nation such as Breitbart News, InfoWars, and other alternative and fringe news sites”.
Also, 44 per cent of Americans had switched to Facebook for their news. News on Facebook consists of the stories that trend the most according to how many other users like them, and according to algorithms which provide more of the stories that you will like.
This is the ‘echo chamber effect’ where people get the news that they like, and which will reinforce their existing opinions, or biases.
The other new, alarming phenomenon has been the rise of fake news sites. Almost anyone with basic internet skills can set up a site with an apparently innocuous name, and then fill it with pictures and attention-grabbing stories, false or otherwise.
These site were simply working on the principle of attracting enough traffic that, in turn, would generate income when the site owners would then place advertising on it for profit.
The genie is out of the bottle and the news as we knew it not so long ago has irrevocably changed. This is particularly in countries such as the USA, where free speech, almost any speech, is protected by the First Amendment.
Alright, so why should Trump bother any more about mainstream media, when mainstream media is no longer central to his success?
The answer, according to Trump’s biographer, Michael D’Antonio, is that Trump is ‘irritated and even enraged by those who check facts and look for evidence to confirm or disprove his claims. He thinks he should just be able to say things, and that those things should be reported and considered uncritically. So he resents it when people fail to do that and instead hold him to some standard, and he takes it personally’.
It appears that Trump wants to be loved and forgiven by the mainstream media, irrespective of his inability to get his facts straight. This need for constant approval seems to indicate a deep-seated insecurity. There’s almost a child-like petulance and rage about his reaction to criticism. This immaturity would be amusing, it Trump wasn’t the President of the United States, with the nuclear codes within reach.
Well, mainstream media just won’t roll over and suddenly ignore the falsehoods and Trump’s ‘alternative reality‘ where the facts just don’t matter any more. American credibility itself is on the block.
Accordingly, the media wars have only just started, and what we’ve seen so far are only the first shots being fired. More brutal combat is on the way.