Today’s ( June 8, 2016) Editorial page of the Arizona Republic nearly made me cry. One after another, editorial writers whose opinions I trust defended the media’s culpability in the creation of Donald Trump. If I can summarize their responses, it seemed to come down to the addict’s plea that they “couldn’t help themselves.”
Trump was “news.” Why? Because he was a car crash or burning house or even, in Arizona only, rain.
Some suggested they couldn’t help themselves because Trump was something “unique” in recent American politics in his ability to manipulate the media. Really? In all fairness, that may just suggest the addiction has been made worse by “reality TV,” in which there is nothing real at all. Or, more probably, a definition of “news” that has morphed out of control as “journalism” has been all but devoured by “business.”
There was a time, not all that long ago, when “news is what I say it is,” was the mantra of professional journalists who took their First Amendment “freedom of the press” responsibilities seriously. Sure, politicians and others whose feet were held to the fire or exposed for who and what they really were, screamed bloody murder. But journalists were backed up by their editors and publishers. The Washington Post’s refusal to collapse under pressure from the Nixon White House is a nice, recent example.
But the core problem now isn’t that journalists are being pressured, its that they have succumbed to pressure that defines news as “what makes money.”
This has been coming for a long time and those now in the profession might be excused for simply not putting the pieces together that stretch back a couple of generations before their time, but for which there is plenty of documentation — even popular films.
Senator Joesph McCarthy comes to mind given his Trumpian ability to manipulate the press into the communist scare that even infected newsrooms and saw journalists chewed up by the witch-hunts. Famously, he was taken on, and taken apart, by Edward R. Murrow and his team at CBS news.
In more recent times, the Trump prototype was former Alabama Governor, and chief bigot of his time, George Wallace. Wallace is the Southern governor who made a national name for himself by defending segregation and the so-called seperate-but-equal slogan bigots had adopted when federal civil rights law was being enforced.
The New York Times carried a recent OpEd by Dan T. Carter a professor emeritus of history at the University of South Carolina. He makes the connection between the manipulation of the media by Wallace and Donald Trump crystal clear. When Trump pounds away with his slogan, “Make America Great Again,” it might make for good journalism to find out what the “again” piece really means before its too late.
Trump is reportedly coming to Phoenix next week. Unless something changes, quickly, news consumers will get another helping of car wrecks and burning houses. Unless it rains.