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Trumping Journalism: A danger to democracy

Three years into Donald Trump’s ultimate vanity project, the daily barrage of his atrocities against decency, ethics and the English language continue ad nauseum.

Trump is used to getting his own way. His business empire and the Trump ‘brand’ was built around his name and his image – the image of a top negotiator who always came out a winner. Like a true narcissist, this image was carefully stage managed, continually ‘on message’ and not open to criticism.

And like a true narcissist, Trump believed his image as President was his to control, and his occupancy of the Oval Office was not open to criticism. He had won after all, and deserved unfettered praise.

But being President is not like being an egotistical business tycoon – a President is under scrutiny from a Press Corp who are tasked with holding those in public office to account.

Trump has no experience with being accountable in his business life, his default action when backed into a corner was to sue all and sundry. As President, his default is to lash out at the Press and ridicule the journalist personally, and/or a media outlet.

This open hostility towards the critical Press (teamed with an open bias to networks which give obedient flattery) is unprecedented in past Presidents, yet not unexpected with Trump.

His campaign rallies, where he got to control the message from the podium, devolved into verbal and physical threats towards assembled journalists – hijacking the term ‘fake news’ to mean any media story or outlet he did not agree with.

Trump led the assembled mob of deplorables in chants of ‘CNN sucks’. Images of Trump supporters attending rallies wearing “Journalist, Tree, Rope – Some Assembly Required” T-shirts appeared on social media. He praised a Republican who physically assaulted a reporter for the Guardian newspaper. Because he is incapable of nuanced thought, Trump revelled in the ugliness he created because it strokes his ego.

He continues to hold rallies for supporters, continues to goad them into believing the Press is against him; repeatedly declaring the Press to be the ‘enemy of the people’. The sycophants in his administration are forced to defend Trump’s unhinged rants against the media; this irrational spin doctoring is then reported in the Press, and condemned by Trump as unfair reporting; he spins out some ‘alternative facts’, which are then reported by the Press; and they are spun again by Trump’s Press Secretary as Trump’s image is threatened, and so on, and so on...

This downward spiral would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.

A threatening T-shirt or body slamming a reporter may seem funny to one of Trump’s worshipers, but there are life-threatening consequences and wider serious repercussions to Trump’s hostility to the Press.

On June 28 this year, a gunman entered The Capital newspaper in Annapolis Maryland and shot dead four reporters and a staffer. The mentally ill gunman had harassed staff for several years previously, but was pushed to mass murder by the climate of antipathy around the media, created by Trump.

In October, a deranged Trump devotee who had his van and his social media plastered with provocative photos (including ‘CNN sucks’) and memes, mailed 14 pipe bombs to CNN, Democrat politicians and supporters. The motivation for this crime was obvious.

Trump’s open warfare with the White House Press Corp recently saw the suspension of CNN correspondent Jim Acosta, after an incident at a Press conference where Trump took offence to Acosta questioning him about Russian involvement in his campaign, and the President’s language about a caravan of immigrants walking towards the US border. Trump declared ‘that’s enough’ and ‘CNN should be ashamed of itself, having you working for them’ – thus deflecting to his animus to CNN, and away from his own loss of control over his image.

And because his image must be protected by any means, the White House Press Secretary fuelled the downward spiral by retweeting actual fake news, in the form a doctored video from a far-right nutjob website showing Acosta pushing the arm of a White House intern tasked with taking the microphone from Acosta. The White House claims the suspension of Acosta’s press clearance was because of this physical contact with the intern, and not the aggressive questioning.

On a separate occasion, Trump ripped into another reporter from CNN who dared ask a reasonable question about the Mueller probe into Trump campaign finance irregularities – “What a stupid question that is,” Trump responded. “What a stupid question. But I watch you a lot,” the President continued. “You ask a lot of stupid questions.” This proves the point – a cornered Trump doesn’t have the mental acuity to do anything other than lash out.

There have been calls for the members of the Press Corp to get up and leave Trump’s press conferences when he strays into unhinged territory. But this would hand control of the message to Trump the demagogue, which is exactly what he wants. The Press must tough it out and call out the hypocrisy and spin doctoring when they see it.

And don’t think we Australians are free from this Trump style assault on the Press.

Prime Minister Morrison was asked a reasonable question by an ABC journalist whilst he was campaigning in Queensland recently, and his response was ‘stop coming up to press conferences and repeating the lines of the Labor party, every time I step up to the microphone’.

Even our publication was accused of being “fake news” recently, in a one sentence email to our office that offered no facts or justification for the insult.

Seems the people most threatened by the truth have the loosest grip on reality.

Greg Smart

By his own admission, Greg Smart was born 40 years old and is in training to be a cranky old man. He spends his time avoiding commercial television and bad coffee.