As tensions continue to rise between the new administration and the media, transparency and ideological debates seem to have given way to threats of silencing the media and more “alternative facts.”
The Trump administration has never hidden its distrust towards the media, citing hidden agendas against the president and his cabinet members. But Steve Bannon—chief strategist and assistant to the president—has made the message clear after calling journalists “the opposition” to the administration and saying they need to “keep their mouths shut.”
“It’s not only an anti-American sentiment, but it is an anti-human rights sentiment,” says Shepherd University political science student Lance Wines about President Trump and Bannon, “a media blackout may be the tipping point in this agitated society.”
“The fact that the most powerful human being on earth, the supposed beacon and embodiment of civil liberties and individual freedoms, could seek to silence the media is absurd,” Wines said.
“Freedom of the press is important, but not a guaranteed freedom,” says Dr. James Lewin, head of Shepherd’s journalism department, “even with multiple court cases backing it up, it’s a ﬁne line with lots of gray areas.”
“When there’s blockage, the press should report it,” says Lewin about the importance of the ﬁrst amendment and the president’s threats of blackouts, “Trump ignoring journalists is bad for everyone.”
Not everyone buys the idea that “the media” as a collective whole has an agenda against Trump and his administration.
“[The media’s] sole agenda was to increase proﬁt margins,” says Wines. “Some have partisan lines…but today’s political climate is too polarized to hide in the certain… some had to take sides.”
Some people believe that the problem isn’t a hidden agenda, but a crisis of credibility. “We need to go back to the fundamentals of journalism,” says Lewin. “There’s been so many mistakes, we need to learn from them and go back to the basics.”
Lewin blames the current credibility crisis on various issues, including fake news, slanderous cable news shows, and an overuse of opinions and predictions from journalists.
Lewin isn’t the only one calling out the cable news industry’s flaws. In his recent article for the New York Times, media columnist Jim Rutenberg discredited television news as “a megaphone for politicians who use it to forward lies and propaganda.” To the credit of some cable journalists, Rutenberg specifies that many channels are starting to get better about getting uncompromised answers, but he says progress will really come once television journalists don’t have to worry about ratings.
“It’s easy for the media to think that they know everything,” says Lewin. “People were angry,” says Lewin about the last election, “but the mainstream media didn’t report it, and we paid the price for it.”
Fake news and that lack of coverage is creating a lack of trust for people toward the media. But journalists aren’t the only ones who need to be diligent in the wake of fake news, citizens have to stay aware too.
The vast majority of voters—83 percent according to research from Pew Research Center—believe that it is the news media’s job to fact-check political candidates and their campaigns. Of those 83 percent, two-thirds of them say fact-checking is a major part of journalism, with 16 percent of voters saying that fact-checking isn’t part of the media’s job at all.
“Don’t believe everything,” says Lewin to citizens, “the quantity of information today creates a greater need to check where it’s coming from. Citizens are responsible too, you can’t just blame ‘the media’ for this problem.”
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Davan Maharaj—editor in chief of The Los Angeles Times—sounded hopeful that these attacks on the press and problems with fake news might lead into a “golden era in journalism,” citing that “citizens of the U.S. are valuing newspapers and trusted, veriﬁed, distinctive journalism once again.”