From the moment he stepped onto the political stage in 2015, Donald Trump has made attacking the media a cornerstone of his political strategy.
It’s an extremely effective strategy, for two reasons: 1) it taps into growing anti-media sentiments in America, and 2) it helps him deflect all of the negative press he gets.
But it’s also a dangerous strategy, and earlier this week, he took it to the next level. His weapon of choice? Twitter, of course:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2017
The tweet came just days after the Trump administration blasted out a totally unbiased “Mainstream Media Accountability Survey” that featured questions such as…
- On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job of representing Republicans?
- Do you believe that the mainstream media does not do their due diligence fat-checking before publishing stories on the Trump administration?
- Do you believe that the media purposely tries to divide Republicans against each other in order to help elect Democrats?
Trump and his team sent the survey out in a mass email to his campaign supporters, telling them,
“You — the American people — are our last line of defense against the media’s hit jobs… That’s why I’ve made it a point to cut through the media’s noise and go straight to the American people. It worked during the campaign and it will work again over these next four years.”
Pretty remarkable email blast from Trump team: "You – the American people – are our last line of defense against the media’s hit jobs" pic.twitter.com/ZhCv6Ldv5S
— Vera Bergengruen (@VeraMBergen) February 16, 2017
So what’s the play here?
Some people say that Trump is trying to deflect attention from the growing investigations into his campaign’s connections to Russia, which may very well be true.
But he also has a much bigger, more far-reaching goal in mind: convincing people to ditch traditional media and look instead to him as the ultimate source of “truth” in America. In other words, Trump is laying the groundwork for his very own state-owned media channel.
It’s worth noting that this is by no means a new idea for Trump. Less than a month before the election, the Financial Times reported that Jared Kushner — Trump’s son-in-law and one of his closest advisors — had approached an investment firm about the possibility of launching a Trump TV network after the election.
It seems that Trump and his team never gave up on that idea. And while there’s nothing official yet, one could make a strong case that Trump and his administration already operate like a state-controlled media network.
Trump’s State-Owned Media Network
On the front lines are White House press secretary Sean Spicer and his partner-in-crime Kellyanne Conway, who basically plays the role of PR Director for Trump.
Their job: to dodge, deflect and defend Trump’s statements every chance they get, while disseminating a few “alternative facts” of their own to help bolster his policy positions.
Spicer and Conway’s efforts are supported by firebrand loyalists like Stephen Miller — one of Trump’s top advisors — who go on TV and say things like this:
“Our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”
And of course, it doesn’t hurt to have people like Texas Representative Lamar Smith telling his constituents,
“The national liberal media won’t print that, or air it or post it… Better to get your news directly from the President. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.”
Anything Is Justifiable When Facts Don’t Matter
As Representative Smith so eloquently pointed out, this isn’t just about controlling media, it’s about controlling the truth.
By dismissing long-trusted sources like The New York Times as nothing more than “fake news”, Trump is giving people an excuse to believe whatever version of the “truth” his administration wants to publicize — even when his claims are thoroughly debunked by reputable journalists.
Many Trump supporters believe that Hillary Clinton only won the popular vote because she received 3 to 5 million illegal votes, a claim Trump began making just days after he was sworn into office. To date, Trump has produced zero evidence to support this claim, and as of December 1, there were only four documented cases of voter fraud in the 2016 election.
Ironically, more than half of Republicans belief (falsely) that Trump actually did win the popular vote, despite all the illegal voting that supposedly happened. And many now believe that Trump had, “the biggest Electoral College win since Reagan” — a false claim he made during a recent event at the White House.
These falsely-held beliefs are troubling, for sure. But there are much more insidious falsehoods being spread by the Trump truth complex right now:
- Trump claimed that the murder rate in America is, “the highest it’s been in 47 years.” This is literally the exact opposite of the truth (murder rates are near historic lows right now). Still, it gives Trump an excuse to call for tougher policing in places like Chicago — a popular stance among his constituents — at a time when the relationship between minority communities and police is already extremely strained.
- Sean Spicer claimed that Iranian forces attacked a US Navy vessel off the Saudi coast. It was actually Houthi rebels from Yemen attacking a Saudi ship, but the claim has helped stoke anti-Iranian sentiments at a time when the the US-Iran relationship is as delicate as it has been in decades.
- Kellyanne Conway has, on multiple occasions, cited a massacre in Bowling Green as proof that Trump’s travel ban has merit. The massacre was totally made up, but it still served its purpose: a recent poll found that more than half of travel ban supporters believe that the fake “Bowling Green massacre” justifies Trump’s execute action.
The list could go on… and on and on.
Look, I get it. You’re tired of a few large outlets having a monopoly on the news. But what you have to understand is that those outlets are made up of thousands of principled, courageous journalists who have dedicated their lives to keeping you informed.
Whatever issues you may have with the “mainstream media”, remember this: those journalists put infinitely more time into verifying and fact-checking than Trump and his team of minions ever will.
And right now, they are our last line of defense against an administration which has proved, time and time again, that it has no interest in the truth.