We’ve seen this trick before. But not quite the way President Donald Trump plays it. His unprecedented “fake news” characterization of the media in general, and certain news organizations in particular, has all the earmarks of a calculated smear campaign.
Trump is resorting to what Cold War military minds call a “preemptive strike,” a surprise nuclear attack launched in order to prevent the enemy from launching one against you.
Could it be his relentless attacks are intended to try and undermine the credibility of broadcast, cable network and print news organizations in anticipation of a story of impeachable proportions? I fear the answer is yes.
It’s no coincidence the news organizations named know exactly what to do with any intelligence leaks on Trump’s campaign connections to or possible collaboration with Russian President Vladimir Putin or his intelligence agencies. A link like that could bring a Presidency to its knees.
No public official in his right mind (I know, I know) takes on the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS, ABC and NBC News as well as CNN at the same time, unless they’re feeling a certain kind of heat. Calling the media “the enemy of the people” is intentional, a clear and present strategy. But it may also be the opening salvo in a war he cannot win.
Trump is treading dangerous ground when you consider how the Constitution protects a free press. His irrational behavior actually drives the nation to the very institutions he wishes to destroy while pushing ratings and readership higher.
Apparently telling the truth is not this President’s strength. “PolitiFact,” a fact checking website owned by the Tampa Tribune, tracks the truthfulness of politicians. It’s found 33 percent of what Trump says is verifiably not true. Its analysis found only 4 percent of what he’s said is verifiably true. The rest is either half true, mostly false or a “pants on fire” lie.
Yet there’s history behind his methods. The evolution of “media bias” started during Former President Richard Nixon’s Watergate downfall. In the 70’s, Republican Conservatives started bashing the media as biased while the reporting of the Washington Post, CBS News and others literally brought down the Nixon Whitehouse.
Conservatives never got over their “heroes” demise. The conservative establishment also never forgave CBS Correspondent Dan Rather’s in-depth reporting that, along with the ground braking work of the Washington Post’s Woodward and Bernstein, forced Nixon to resign.
The same Republican Party conservatives were already fuming about network stories showing the brutality of the South during the 60’s Civil Rights movement. It’s hard to forget print and televised images of Emmett Till’s beaten body, Black and white video of Sheriff Bull Conner sicking dogs on brave civil rights workers, televised video tape of determined protestors blown down and back by the powerful force of fire hose waters.
It’s important to understand where the media bias allegation started, who started it and for what reasons. The whole idea of a media conspiracy is a heavy handed reaction to a free press doing its constitutionally protected job showing the horrors of segregation and political corruption.
So it’s important we get our barbershop, beauty parlor, twitter, facebook and online bias debates in the right historical context. Were there no network or newspaper reporters and news photographers covering the Civil Rights Movement, there would have been no movement as we know it.
Have some news organizations sometimes willingly exploited racial stereo types in relentless pursuit of higher and higher ratings? Yes! Are some too easily influenced by conservative talk radio and the Fox News’ “fair and balanced” myth? Absolutely!
But the good thing is serious news organizations are returning to their investigative journalistic roots. They’re digging around Trump’s reportedly evolving Russian Connection may soon produce terrifyingly familiar fruit.
Since Journalists aren’t fooled by this “preemptive strike,” we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be “had, took, hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray” or “run amok” either.
Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award Winning Investigative Television Journalist who’s worked in Detroit, Baltimore, St. Louis, Richmond and as a Freelance Correspondent for CNN. He’s a graduate of Virginia Union University and its Samuel Dewitt Proctor School of Theology.
By Dennis Edwards
Editorial Page Columnist