THIS IS NOTHING NEW
This is where it starts.
I have never been an avid follower of politics, or even the news in general. I don’t watch TV, I don’t buy the paper, I don’t bookmark news websites. I never really understood politics, or cared to, and lived happily enough in my own bubble. That is, until last year’s presidential election.
President Trump represents something of a paradigm shift in American politics, and consequently, in world politics. The reasons are as numerous as they are infuriating/laughable/worrying (take your pick), but I want to zero in on something in particular. Trump is not a politician. He’s a businessman, and not a particularly good one. His campaign has been built on bravado, bluff, and charisma; and it has fed off the anti-establishment sentiments of much of the American populus. What’s more worrying is that his presidency and administration seems to be running in the same vein. Trump lies, and so does his administration.
During the first White House press conference, Press Secretary Sean Spicer took to the mic and blatantly lied to a room full of reporters about something incredibly petty — the size of Trump’s inaugural address audience. Twice. He then lied about the alleged millions of people who voted illegally during the election. Since then we’ve had a flurry of unfounded allegations —the White House administration working like a “fine-tuned machine” despite the chaotic immigration ban fiasco and the resignation of then National Security adviser Michael Flynn, the wiretapping of Trump’s offices by the Obama administration (in order to deviate from the investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia), Trump’s declaration of war on the media, the claim that Trump’s electoral win was “the biggest since Reagan” (it wasn’t), the list goes on and on…
But let’s examine what this does to the media landscape surrounding us. Everyone has grown accustomed to politicians and officials trying to worm their way out of questions and issues that they would rather not discuss. But this is different. This is a government which dishes out misinformation and simply shrugs it off when they get called out. What this effectively does is it blurs the line between news and propaganda. And this is dangerous. Propaganda serves not to disseminate truth, but to create it. If you lie about something often enough eventually it will become the truth. Thankfully it isn’t as easy to mislead the public today as it was in 1939, but if we can no longer rely on the establishment to put out reliable information, then the media becomes not only the vehicle for dissemination of news, but also for its interpretation. This is where Trump takes it a step further by undermining the media for good reporting, as a reporter put it during the president’s press address:
But aren’t you — aren’t you concerned, sir, that you are undermining the people’s faith in the First Amendment, freedom of the press, the press in this country, when you call stories you don’t like “fake news”? Why not just say it’s a story I don’t like… When you call it “fake news,” you’re undermining confidence in our news media
More than anything else, it means we as consumers need to be more vigilant in what we read and what we believe. It means we need to be very selective about what we share and what we promote. And the sad truth is not many of us are. When the news starts to blur with opinion, the reverse also becomes true. It has become the responsibilty of every person capable of accessing and spreading information to do so in a manner that uncovers the truth and that propagates a perspective that is both accurate and which will benefit society. Because these days the most reliable sources of information do not lie with the establishment or the corporations, but with individuals.
So why should we care? Why should any of us be bothered with what happens in the US, or the White House, or Trump? Because the fact is that what happens in Washington affects the rest of the world. It has a massive influence over the rest of the globe in every context. And the seeds of similar right wing sentiments are already showing up in Europe — Brexit, France, the Netherlands, and even Malta.
Donald Trump himself coined the term fake news. It’s an easy scapegoat towards anything that’s not in his favour. The reality though is that a lot of the news is fake. It falls to us, then, to dissect it. To examine it. And to correct it.