Trump and the Lying Media
Trump has continued to rebuff the press corps, even attacking CNN as fake news. While this is not the first time we’ve seen an antagonistic relationship between the White House and the the news industry (Nixon’s relationship with reporters was tenuous at best.), this is the first time that such a relationship was established before a president even entered office. While our news networks scramble to adjust to open hostility from the President-elect, this does present an opportunity to reframe how journalists in the US manage the White House beat.
And it does need reframing. Both the Bush and Obama administrations utilized the old game, exploiting the competitive hierarchy within the White House press corps to reward keeping the White House in a positive light. Ball-players would get scoops and leaks and interviews where less cooperative correspondents would get shoved to the back of the room. Our free press was hypothetically free, but weren’t free to express themselves without punishment, nor were they incentivized to report the truth.
In the aughts, it became noticeable when news embarrassing to the administration was downplayed or unreported entirely.
Many of us ceased concerning ourselves with the Mainstream media entirely, instead turning to foreign investigative news sources (from whence we got the early Snowden revelations) and independent internet bloggers and press correspondents (from whence we got on-the-ground reporting of the Ferguson unrest before news channels even acknowledged something was happening). Details of a situation consistent across several bloggers from different witnesses is probably more true than several news networks reporting the same Reuters press release, word-for-word. The mainstream networks felt this decline in readership, between those who left for the internet, and those who left for comedy news (read: The Daily Show). Except for Fox News which was targeting a demographic that didn’t want to actually be informed anyway.
But Trump isn’t offering the proverbial ball at all. He doesn’t want to have to play. At this point, everything President-elect Trump says is pure propaganda, meant not to inform at all, but to manipulate. If Trump does say something that can be confirmed by facts, it is coincidental, and often is only close to what is actually true. The only reason Trump’s statements to the public are news at all is because he’s the President-elect, and anything the President says is news just for having been said by the President.
But now, mainstream media has a chance to return to significance again, not only by regaining viewership, but also as an active check on government officials and agencies. And if they went the distance, they could lead the United States into the era of state transperancy that Obama wished for the US.
Of course, this is about establishing vigilance. It’s not going to be easy.
Torture News Again
My regular followers are already aware that torture news sets me off, which is to say news regarding the CIA extrajudicial detention and interrogation program. It upsets me. The title of the program is pretty self explanatory. If someone important in the US doesn’t like somebody and thinks they’re a danger to national security, US agents capture the individual without trial, render him to a black site (that is, a secret facility), hold him there indefinitely without trial. And in the name of the people of the United States, agents torture this guy for information. Or just for fun, since we’ve determined that information attained by torture is dubious.
This is a really ugly chapter in the history of the United States, and is, on a list of heinous crap we’ve done, probably up there near the massacres of the Indian tribes. And we’re still doing it. As far as I can tell (which is based on limited information) we only do it directly as far as pretending that it’s not torture, for instance we don’t have our SERE guys (or more likely, SERE-guy-tutored CIA guys) waterboard dudes anymore, but we force them to live in the wookie room (ESB, Bespin sequence), which is to say we blast them with intense white light and loud noise for days. And when we want to hurt someone even worse, we outsource our more severe torture to other nationals, so that we can still say the US doesn’t torture.
Which might explain why even at the 11th hour we can’t get Obama to release the full version of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture. The public has only seen the massively redacted summary (still a very dry 525-page report), but the six-thousand page comprehensive report remains classified, and most of the copies (including all those belonging to CIA) have been destroyed.
Outgoing President Obama offered to drop one into his presidential library vault.
For those who are interested (and it amazes me how so many people are not) the common reaction to this is, What is the US hiding? What is so damning in the six-thousand page report that we have to risk it getting disappeared forever in the Trump fire? This is why we want to make sure it doesn’t disappear entirely.
All That Is Dark Is Treachery
The saga of the US torture program(s) and the unreleased CIA torture report reveals to us the way the White House press corps can make Trump its bitch, or at least make Trump’s administration its bitch, and failing that, turn all eyes on what is likely a treasonous President.
Of course, doing so means committing to telling the truth, even when doing so makes enemies and may cost lives. Or worse yet, when the truth is really not so sensational, yet must still be told. (This means a commitment to frequent errata listings.)
As I suggested above, the resemblance of what Trump says to truth is only coincidental when it happens, and as a result it means that what he says is news only on the ground that the President said something. The content of anything said by Trump or by White House staff might point to relevant topics, or indicate distractions away from other business, but beyond that, our news teams will actually have to investigate what is going on, and why the White House is behaving the way it is.
This is to say relevant news will instead be found in what the administration does, that is what the president signs into law. And why can be extrapolated based on either evidence consistent with a hypothesis, or with nothing clear and convincing, the scenario that assume’s President Trump’s most avaricious inclinations. So yes, this means that we assume Trump is actively seeking to fuck over the people of the United States, until he demonstrates otherwise with clear and convincing evidence.
No evidence, no play.
The press does what it has showed a long history of being very skilled at doing already: assume the very worst.
The meme Questions to which the answer is no comes from a journalistic tactic that justifies sensational speculation: if your headline isn’t necessarily true, you rephrase it into a question. E.g. Did Obama just pass martial law?. As an exercise you can go to a websearch engine and see what examples are provided by autocomplete to the words did obama just. The answer to these questions is very typically no., hence the meme.
But this is not an ordinary White House. It’s certainly not a benevolent White House. And even with recent other (slightly more benevolent / less malevolent) White Houses as well, sometimes the answer is yes.
Or worse yet, the answer is something we didn’t expect, but makes us really rather we got that terrible yes answer instead.
Throughout the 21st century, the people of the US have had several surprises that have come to us by way of whistleblowers or press leaks or hacks or deep dive investigations, from our ongoing torture program (above) to drone strikes used by the CIA to massacre villages to our policy to hire mercenaries for operations involving war crimes and crimes against humanity, since mercs are plausibly deniable, to our mass surveillance program that openly spies on US citizens (and surprise! has now is used for law enforcement purposes beyond antiterrorism to include the drug war and keeping watch on our less-preferred demographics.) Even the frequency of murders by police officers of innocent civilians has been grotesquely understated, and we now have non-profit volunteer services and press investagatory teams devoted to tracking blue violence, how often it leads to death, and how often it’s actually reported.
So yes, whatever you imagine is going on in the White House, it’s probably worse than you think.
And when Trump is in office, it’s going to stay that way.
When it comes to press blackouts, we have good cause to assume the very worst, always. When it comes to any government action that isn’t transparent to the public, we have cause to assume it’s for the private interests of officials, not the interests of the people. Classified material is always evidence of treason, or evidence of catastrophic government failure, or evidence of crimes against humanity. At least we should assume as much until we have sufficient evidence otherwise.
And our news should report these as such. Neither Trump, nor the United
States legal system nor the Legislature should be trusted with any secrets whatsoever. Anytime there isn’t a frantic hurry to publish government documents, it means that someone is seeking to betray the public trust.
Right now, it is completely possible that we already have a system to massacre prison inmates as a way of thinning out blacks, Muslims, Latins, the mentally ill, the impoverished and any other undesirables. And it’s going to feel awful if it is in operation for ten years before we finally get a scoop out to the public.
Our news networks can chose to sell this degree of distrust to the people of the US much the way the Vietnam War was sold as a bad war. And with a unified front of hidden government is criminal government all of our branches, including the White House will turn around. Because fear of the people, and shame by the people seems to be the one thing that terrifies them.
And the might of the pen will once again regain respect. Not necessarily from Trump, because Trump is just incapable of having respect, but either his administration will learn to manage him, or they’ll dispose him, Julius-Caesar-style (possibly with actual knives).
Until Trump’s every action as president is made available to the public, we should expect every word we don’t hear, every step we don’t see, every order to which we’re not privy, every bite of every fancy dinner to which the public is not invited, all are done with full conscious intent to betray the people of the United States.
And to be fair, Trump’s visible actions have been consistent with this assumption.