The Fourth Estate

Friday, May 25, 2018

Of all the things that have gotten turned upside down during the Trump presidency, the most obvious one has been the press. It has been held in high esteem by most people for as long as this country has been in existence and now it’s being shattered and maligned by the President and his supporters in ways not seen before.

It all revolves around the new phrase, “fake news” which the President uses so fondly. Fake news includes any criticism of the President for any reason. We all know that he has long had a tender ego that doesn’t take any kind of criticism in a positive way and that concept is exemplified by him daily. In his mind, everything he does is wonderful and it’s impossible for him to understand that most people in this country don’t see it that way. So he isolates himself among the 35% to 40% of core supporters who do and together they demean the whole press corps except for Fox News and conservative talk radio.

Overlooked in this constant tirade about “fake news” is the yeoman work put in by Woodward and Bernstein in bringing down the Nixon presidency back in the '70s. They continued to work the story for their employer, the Washington Post, even when they were told not to by their own bosses. They worked the story because they knew it had legs and that it was crucial that the people of this country know the truth about Watergate and all its ugly consequences. The truth would never have been known without the tireless and continuous work of those two and the nation became a better place because of it.

Of course, Nixon wasn’t the only President to lie and attempt to cover up undesirable truths about him and/or his administration. President Reagan did it during the Iran/Contra affair where we traded weapons for hostages when Reagan was saying we didn’t. President Johnson lied about the bombing of Cambodia, saying we had not and would not venture into Cambodia at the very moment when we were doing exactly that. President Clinton lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, proclaiming defiantly on national television that he didn’t have an affair “with that woman, Miss Lewinsky” and then later having to admit that he lied when her blue dress with his DNA on it became a national embarrassment.

So to assume that Presidents don’t lie is a misnomer. Being elected President doesn’t make an imperfect person perfect. It doesn’t mean he or she is always going to look out for the people’s best interest and never their own. Whatever their nature and personality were before the election, that same nature and personality will be there after the election. And that’s why we need a press that is beholden to the truth rather than a particular person. The one legitimate criticism of the press during Trump’s first year in office has been an almost daily indictment of his faults and little mention of his accomplishments. This is done almost unconsciously by a majority of press people because their political leanings tend to be Democratic rather than Republican.

I use the word “unconsciously” because it’s difficult for any of us to see that our biases influence the way we see the world but they do. They do in me and they do in you. If you’re a Trump supporter, you overlook his faults and if you’re a Trump opponent, you overlook his accomplishments. This is not a good thing but it is a real thing. The mission of the press is to investigate and then report the facts, allowing others to put their own spin on what the press has reported. Even though Walter Cronkite was a life-long Democrat, he was able to do that and because he was, he had the support of a vast majority of Americans, regardless of their political persuasion.

Politics is not a zero-sum game. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Sometimes you do what’s right and other times you don’t. And for any of us to ignore that fact and support someone regardless of their words or behavior and, on the other hand, demean an entire press corps because they’re not reporting your biases and prejudices is just not right.

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