In October 2018, President Trump created quite a stir when he tweeted the following, “The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly.” Like a lot of things Trump says, some thought his tweet was exaggerated and perhaps over-the-top, but many of us thought we knew what he meant. The mainstream media may not be our enemy in the traditional sense, we thought, but they’re similar to the neighbor that tells tall tales, likes to gossip, and still has the power drill you loaned him two years ago. You’re not going to just walk up and kick him in the stones, but you also don’t like him, trust him, or believe a word that he says. But as we look back now, in the waning days of Trump’s presidency, let’s reconsider what the president said and evaluate – did Trump overstate the combativeness of the media, or did he actually get it right?
The credibility crisis with our media due to their unquestionable partiality can be viewed as having three separate components. First we have “simple bias,” usually expressed subtly in reactions and opinions, which has been around for decades, and a basic example is the words they choose in reporting. For instance, when Republicans look into potential corruption of Democrats, the media says Republicans are “digging up dirt.” But when Hillary Clinton’s campaign funded the fictitious Steele Dossier, it was “opposition research.” The second element afflicting our mainstream media is “bias by omission,” and has become increasingly common. Examples here include the decision by ABC News in 2016 to spike a story by Amy Rohbach on Jeffrey Epstein’s underage sex empire – a scandal that was exposed in 2019 – and the subsequent collusion by CBS News in firing that whistleblower. Epstein’s ties to Bill Clinton almost certainly played a role in the intentional exclusion. The third component is the dreaded, “fake news”, which can be defined as any news reports that are blatantly false, due to either journalistic incompetence or just flat-out lying.
It is the “fake news” and “bias by omission” components of media bias that emerged after the president’s memorable comments two years ago that make a strong case for Trump’s controversial tweet being spot-on. In a democracy, having a strong and inquisitive media is imperative. The only way for citizens in a republic to hold their elected officials accountable is at the ballot box. Do a good job with integrity and you get reelected. Do a lousy job or engage in corruption and you get voted out. That answerability is the most critical aspect of our form of government, and an honest media that accurately reports the facts regarding those who would be elected is arguably the most important player in the electoral process. Therefore, when the media not only engages in the active suppression of crucial information in the weeks leading up to a quadrennial election, but in fact knowingly disseminates blatantly false information, is it inappropriate to use “enemy of the people” to describe them? Aren’t they, by their very actions, an existential threat to that democracy?
Less than a year after President Trump’s controversial “enemy of the people” comments came the erroneous reporting by ABC News on Turkey’s incursion into Syria. Turkey’s initiative began shortly after President Trump had announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the area, a decision that was brutally criticized by the leftwing/mainstream media. Turkey was bombing Kurdish civilians, was the narrative, and ABC purported to show footage of the action. In reality, the footage was of an exercise being conducted by American civilians at a gun range in Kentucky, presumably as recreation. This incident was not some innocent, minor error. It’s not like ABC got a date incorrect, or used the wrong name of a Turkish General. They showed some good ole boys from Kentucky (and that phrase is meant as the utmost compliment) exercising their 2nd Amendment rights and harming no one, and tried to pass it off as a war atrocity being committed on the Turkish border due to the foreign policy of President Trump.
Fast-forward to the recent election cycle where we saw a similarly dishonest attempt by The Atlantic to discredit President Trump, but this time it was only two months before Election Day. President Trump had called fallen American soldiers “losers” during a visit to Paris in 2018, they told us. The piece was parroted by the rest of the mainstream media including the New York Times and Washington Post, as well as ABC, NBC and CBS News. The story stunk from the get-go, with the only sources being those of the “anonymous” variety. As the days passed, the story began to unravel, culminating in the outright repudiation of it by Trump’s National Security Advisor at the time, John Bolton. Bolton had been with Trump in Paris for the entire visit in question, so he would certainly know about the story’s validity. Additionally, Bolton had established himself as a clear adversary of Trump’s with his intense criticisms of the president, and he stood to benefit financially if the story had been true with a likely surge in sales of his recent anti-Trump book, The Room Where It Happened. Bolton was credible, and most importantly Bolton was not “anonymous,” he refuted the story on-the-record. The entire story fell apart. Did the rest of the media call out The Atlantic for their shoddy journalism? Did they retract their story, or issue corrections? Of course not.
Perhaps even more devastating to the credibility of the mainstream media was their collective decision to ignore the Hunter Biden scandal only weeks before the election – bias by omission at its very worst. In concert with their social media cronies at Facebook and Twitter, the big players in the mainstream media initially downplayed the story as first reported by the New York Post. Social media impeded or shut down distribution of the story, and in Twitter’s case they suspended the account of the New York Post. But instead of just pooh-poohing the story, the media decided instead to go on the attack by calling it “Russian Disinformation.” We now know that not only was the story not Russian disinformation – as detailed by none other than Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe – but was wholly legitimate. Hunter Biden himself admitted only weeks after the election that he is under investigation by the Department of Justice, at which point the media began to show at least some levels of journalistic curiosity. The election results seemed secure with their guy Joe Biden having won, so it was safe for the media to pretend to be legitimate journalists again.
In the lead up to Election Day, when polling showed that opinions were fluid and many Americans were still making up their minds on whether to vote for Donald Trump or Joe Biden, our mainstream media made a conscious effort to not just hold back on a significantly relevant story, but to maliciously label it as false and foreign-influenced. A reported 80 million people voted for Joe Biden while there was clear evidence of his son’s corruption and his own potential knowledge, and even participation in, that corruption. But the media did everything they could to squash the story. Countless voters likely decided not to vote for Donald Trump based on the slanderous and debunked story in The Atlantic, a story which was echoed and applauded by our incestuous mainstream media. And there are dozens of other examples of media malfeasance we could point to. The media put their thumbs on the scales of our presidential election, and did so in plain sight for all to see.
When Trump called the media “the enemy of the people,” many cringed, and correctly called out that such rhetoric was consistent with that of historic dictators and their implementation of fascism. How dare he call us the enemy of the people, they gasped. The difference was, and is, President Trump wasn’t endeavoring to install fascism, he was fighting against the totalitarian control by America’s left over our complicit mainstream media. If someone, or some group, actively seeks to suppress critical information and to misinform the public, they are clearly attempting to undermine our electoral process. And if that electoral process is the foundation of our democracy, a fact which is undeniable, then what else should we call it? Such behavior can only be described by one word: enemy.
For clarity, lest anyone try to claim otherwise, neither President Trump nor anyone else with sanity or common decency is calling for any form of violence against the media or anyone else. Enemies must be defeated, but as has already been pointed out, the mainstream media is not an enemy in the traditional sense. We should call out their corruption as it happens, exposing their dishonesty and true intentions. We should look to defeat them by turning to alternative sources for our news, simultaneously learning the truth and driving down their revenues. And we should ensure those alternative sources of information maintain their journalistic integrity instead of evolving into rightwing versions of the very outlets we’re rejecting. There is a path to success, we just need to follow it.