Trump Imitates Putin’s Destruction of a Nation’s Free Media

Trump Imitates Putin’s Destruction of the Nation’s Free Media

To undermine, discredit and destroy a nation’s free media is a major goal of any authoritarian, anti-democratic government. Donald Trump began to actually DO that even before he was nominated by the Republican Party to be their candidate for President. He used his criticism to destroy the credibility of his 16 primary opponents. His praise of Russia’s ruler, Putin, was an exuberant cry of triumph about how well he succeeded. He is now continuing the process.

Margaret Sullivan’s column in the Washington Post, (3-6-17) “A media game plan out of the autocrats’ handbook” describes it well. She is not the first to do that. Unfortunately, Trump’s plan is well under way and is succeeding. A major disadvantage the media has, is that THEY were a large part of his plan to get the nomination. NOW he must complete the job of undermining them, to prevent them from damaging him. HE HAS ALREADY BEGUN BY SAYING OVER AND OVER, “The press is dishonest, publishes fake news, etc.”

The media’s disadvantage is that they HAVE lost credibility NOT ONLY WITH TRUMP SUPPORTERS BUT, with those who opposed Trump, or were neutral or not leaning against him. NOW, when the media report ANYTHING about Trump, it gains automatic attention but is also “suspect.” (Much of the public ON BOTH SIDES—Trumpists or anti-Trump– has been conditioned by the media by its sensational coverage of Trump as entertainment, or ”fake news.”}

This implicitly reduces the awareness of the danger to the nation’s freedom that Trump poses. The media’s “tolerance” of Trump’s outright lies, has now made them much less credible to many viewers and readers. Much of the media HAVE recognized this, but they HAVE NOT taken steps to repair the damage to their credibility. NOW, not later, is when this must be accomplished.

The first, and most important deficiency in media coverage has been its tolerance of the direct lies, mis-characterization and distortions of the truth by Donald Trump. NO speech he has has made has been free of them, and most have had dozens. Yet the media wait too long to identify them. They are in a difficult position, BUT TRUTH IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THEIR NEED TO ENTERTAIN THEIR VIEWERS AND READERS. OBVIOUS LIES MUST IDENTIFIED IMMEDIATELY. Questionable statements need also need to be “noted” because Trump is a KNOWN liar and needs to be monitored.

An initial effort can begin with the “White House Press Corps.” They can boycott the President’s conferences or otherwise deal with his lies. They can agree—or an identified group can use specific “validation” procedures—before reporting, and including the “level of truth” in his statements. If Trump retaliates, THAT can also be reported, and if that does not work well, ALWAYS PUTTING IN A “CAVEAT” THAT THE REPORT HAS NOT BEEN VERIFIED. Other more effective methods can be developed.

Unless the media adopt this change, Trump will have accomplished what Putin has already. When media continue to report falsehood, and do NOT challenge it—the liars have accomplished their mission–their message has been delivered—then, dissenters must prove it is false (if the media will let THEM, because it will itself not do so). Thus died the Russian partially-free media, and so may those in the US, to be supplanted by so-called “social media” and alternative sources on cable and radio.

In Russia, journalists were killed, abused, and otherwise prevented from reporting. Will that happen in the US? If it worked there, Trump’s admiration for Putin makes it likely that he, or those who support him with such passion that they believe in only him, will do what the Russian secret police do now.

Do not underestimate the power of a passionate minority in an otherwise free society, where the power to control an authoritarian ruler cannot quickly be marshaled. The United States is a free nation, and there is NO IMMEDIATELY AVAILABLE POWER to control what a determined President might decide to do. HE can and DOES call up the National Guard of a state (with the consent of the State Governor) and rarely has been disputed. WHAT IF he did it and then “forgot” to return it to the State?
He could send Federal Marshals in to “control” a Federal Judge who ruled against him. Is there any “safety valve” to prevent that? Trump is now “testing” the waters, with proclamations and pronouncements. He has been, so far, somewhat respectful of the judiciary. BUT what if he decided to go forward without judicial approval? So far, that has not happened, but that may not be how he deals with future setbacks.

The President’s rage at his staff’s inability to control events last weekend was so high that others said they had never seen him that way before. But his rage usually results, as the media reports, in some vengeful reaction against those who opposed his will. This is a very bad sign, for his staff, for the Congress and the Judiciary, but most of all for the American people.

If his staff cannot satisfy him within the rules, regulations and laws of the nation, some of them will, inevitably, try to go around them, subvert them, or get others passed that will make possible what Trump wants to happen. What DOES he want to happen? There are literally millions of people who voted for him as a new political “messiah” of their political religion or creed. Their PASSIONATE adherence to HIS WILL, can make opposition to him difficult or impossible. The fact that HIS party (which was not united behind him during the election) is unwilling or unable to control him.

The fear of “losing” has paralyzed the Republican party to the point where they seem willing to take the chance of Donald Trump destroying American democracy as we have come to know it. The two leaders of the Congress seem like “deer in the headlights” of a runaway vehicle with an out-of-control driver. And, there seem to be no traffic signals the work efficiently enough to slow it down before it drives over those in its path. The victims of the almost-inevitable collision will be not only our government. our political parties and their relevance to the public interest, but the American way of life as it has evolved over the past 200 years. That is the chance we took when we permitted Donald Trump to be our leader.

How can this be prevented? The media, who had a large role in permitting Donald Trump’s candidacy to evolve from a sensational joke to his election, must begin to TELL THE WHOLE TRUTH ABOUT DONALD TRUMP’S LIES, WHETHER OR NOT IT CREATES PROBLEMS FOR THEM. How this can be done with the least conflict is NOT easy. If they cannot get cooperation from elected officials, they must find a way to get it. It is very late in the game. And to succeed will take courage and determination and careful planning. BUT IT MUST BE DONE.

Perhaps the process can involve two things at once. The restoration of media credibility is essential. FIRST, initiate that—by finding ways to bring out the news without the static and distortion of rules that serve OTHER PURPOSES (e.g. profit) to provide it. THEN focus on the “TRUTH ABOUT HOW THE PRESIDENT IS DOING HIS JOB, by applying a “set of criteria” that require media sources NOT to lie, and if they DO, to PUNISH THEM BY REVEALING THEIR LIES.
That is a beginning. For the nation’s sake, it must succeed, or freedom as we know it now will be lost.

John H. Langer, JD, Ed.D. Retired Federal agency manger, former professor of education, public school administrator, and writer of a number of articles and publications on education, public affairs, substance abuse and social issues. In writing a book on attention and memory as it relates to education, this blog is helping to focus attention n current issues, and hopefully, add something useful as well.

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