I have mentioned a number of times in my postings that Americans need to watch carefully how the Trump administration handles the press and the courts. The reason it is so important to pay attention to this is that those are the two democratic institutions charged with holding the Executive Branch accountable. All Presidents have found themselves more or less at war with the press, because Presidents don’t like it when the press challenges them. And most Presidents eventually collide with the courts for the same reason.
This morning (Feb 11, 2017) we had another example of President Trump’s on-going assault on the press.
According to the Washington Post, CNN announced this morning that US investigators have verified some of the details found in the 35-page “dossier” about Trump’s unsavory activities in Russia. President Trump denies that these things ever happened; in fact, he denies being in Russia at all.
Caveat: CNN’s breaking news does NOT say that any of the more odious details found in the dossier have been confirmed. Mostly they have only confirmed that he was present at the times and places mentioned in the dossier, which he has consistently denied.
What this means is that the President has been lying to the American people about his private visits to Russia and the parties he attended there. But that is not what interests me about this. What interests me about this is the White House response to story.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer called this story another example of “fake news,” which is the White House’s standard response to stories they don’t like. Nothing new there. But then he went on to lecture the press on how they should be doing their job:
He said, “This is more fake news. It is about time CNN focused on the success the president has had bringing back jobs, protecting the nation and strengthening relationships with Japan and other nations. The president won the election because of his vision and message for the nation.”
First, let’s be clear: The press HAS been reporting on all these other things Sean Spicer mention. I read several news outlets everyday, including such reliable sources as The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The BBC; and a few less reliable sources, like Huffington Post (on the left) and FOX News (on the right). Pretty much everything the President says or does gets covered by the main media outlets.
As an aside, the reason I read across the political spectrum is that that’s the only way to filter out the inevitable biases that each media organization brings to its coverage. If you restrict yourself to one or two media outlets, you are not getting the whole story. Try reading a single story as covered by Huffington Post, the Washington Post and FOX news, with a view to filtering out their biases to get to the real story. It’s not that hard to do.
The Trump administration’s problem with the press coverage they get is not that the press focuses on the wrong stories, but that the press actually reports the facts; facts that the Trump administration doesn’t want reported. What they really want is for the press to shut up.
Bad things happen when the bright light of the press is no longer shining on the dark corners of the government. This is true whichever party is in power.
Consider the instructive example of Watergate. For those of you who don’t remember, President Richard Nixon was directly involved in a series of illegal activities designed to undermine his political enemies. The Washington Post was willing to go to war with the Nixon White House, in the face of serious threats of retribution, to uncover the facts. When the story finally broke, Nixon was forced to resign from the Presidency. (Watch the move “All the President’s Men” for a masterful retelling of the whole story. Better still, read Bernstein and Woodward’s book on which the move is based.)
The only thing that stands between America’s democracy and the dark designs of evil people is a free press.
There are two things the President of the United States has no business doing: First, he has no business telling the press what their job is. The whole point of the free press is to hold people in power accountable. Second, he has no business telling the courts what their job is, as he has been doing this past week. The whole point of the Judiciary is to hold people in power accountable.
I expect to see more and stronger attacks on both the courts and the press in the weeks ahead. This President is highly authoritarian (like Putin, for example), and does not want anyone holding him accountable for the things he says and does.