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When looking at the history and foundations of a functioning democracy, the core tenets are grounded in an educated civilian population, and freedom of speech, expression, and especially, an unrestricted press. In the United States, although the inherent biases of mainstream media outlets has been questioned at times, the thing that has remained self evident is the dissemination and access to information that it has provided for the general public. In doing so, the media has been a vital and valuable source of information regarding political issues, potential wrongdoings, and providing the citizens with pertinent insight that allows for a democratic system to function in the first place.
However, as of the recent presidential elections, the freedom of the media and press has come under attack by the current administration, leading to a major point of corruption within the American political system. Since taking office, and during the elections, Donald Trump consistently targeted mainstream media outlets and journalists for being illegitimate and dishonest, emphasizing the extent to which his presidency would take action against what he believed to be “fake news.”
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Thus, as a result, a debate has widened regarding the inherent roles of the media in the age of Donald Trump, and whether or not their safety as granted by the US Constitution will remain intact if they are to expose the new administration for unlawful or discriminatory practices. Although one side claims that everything should be taken with a grain of salt, and that journalists should be hesitant in their reporting, and to eir on the side of suspicion in order to avoid overreacting and direct conflict with the administration.
However, it is clear that these mentalities stem from a cautious and non-confrontational media base, when in reality the American press has always been vocal and opinionated in regards to their beliefs. Although some mentalities encourage cautious and safe reporting in the era of Donald Trump, it is clear that the American democratic system is grounded in the continuity of free expression by the press, and the only way to ensure the longevity of this system is for the media to, now more than ever, be active and proactive in reporting on the issues and unlawful activities coming out of the Trump administration.
In order to better understand the inherent debate surrounding the role and behavior of media and journalists in the age of Trump, it is necessary to identify the reasons why some are pushing for a calm, cautious, and skeptical reporting from the press. First and foremost, proponents of this mentality claim that a great deal of stories and rumors that have arisen during the Trump administration have been unsolidified narratives, simply being blown out of proportion as a result of broader reactions to this unprecedented election.
According to this view, the stories regarding collusion with Russia, as well as outlandish and early comparisons to dictatorial regimes such as Hitler’s, are a mere sensationalism that stems from people’s disdain of what Trump and his administration stand for.
In doing so, examples can be seen in popular media outlets such as The New Yorker who, “has run yet another-- piece warning that Trump could be Hitler. And it sometimes seems like half the journalists on Twitter operate on the assumption that the president-elect is an actual Russian agent, and that American democracy is all but finished.” (Chittum, “The Media Shouldn’t Overreact to Donald Trump”)
In this specific regard, the argument made can be seen as valid and relevant in the context of the modern day. The exponential increase in access to information within the country has led to poor quality in the validity of the facts and stories themselves, therefore causing individuals to accept simple headlines and false narratives without being able to determine the inherent truth.
Thus, to this end, the proponents of this mentality are valid in making the statement that the mainstream media must remain more vigilant for false narratives than ever before, especially considering the extent to which these stories are becoming more abundant by day. This, essentially, is in line with the continuity of an effective democratic system, as the integrity of the press should not be undermined by the acceptance of false stories and doctored statements.
In line with the above claim that journalists now need to be more cautious and tentative than ever before, is another argument made by this side claiming that reporting in the age of Trump needs to be impeccable due to greater ramifications. In doing so, proponents of a less-proactive reporting base believes that, given the negative claims made against them by the Trump administration, the honesty and transparency of media outlets is more important than ever before.
With the credibility of journalists being called into question by the president, it brings to light the importance of acting with caution, rather than taking a proactive and active approach to reveal the actions of the Trump administration. This is another valid argument made by proponents of the careful approach, due to the fact that the constant barrage of negative sentiment from the executive branch of government can greatly detriment the legitimacy of reporters, even in a questionable era such as today.
The reality is that, despite the sometimes irrational statements made by Donald Trump, his influence on the American people, both supporters and opposers, is nonetheless prominent. In doing so, “Trump’s methods of communication have contributed to his success. Twitter, his preferred means of interaction with the world, is designed to quickly publish thoughts and sound bites to the world. With a limit of 160 characters, tweets leave no space for citation or clarification.
This model benefits Trump, who has a documented propensity for making unfounded or unverifiable claims, more than it does Clinton and other politicians who traffic in fact rather than fiction.” (O’Neill, “Media in the Age of Trump”) When analyzing the impact of Trump’s outbursts on the social media platform, it is clear that these attacks have been largely focused on mainstream media outlets.
Without the need to implement fact or evidence for his claims, it has allowed Trump to launch unwarranted statements against any that he views to be his opponents, while those who are attempting to argue back with facts and statistical insight are shot down given the need to explain in more detail. Thus, the argument in regards to journalists being cautious because of the instability in credibility now taking place is valid, however, would greatly degrade the responsibilities and integrity of the mainstream media in America.
Although proponents of a less proactive and cautious mainstream media base have valid points in making their claims, the reality is that the circumstances today are unprecedented, creating an environment where American democracy needs freedom of press now more than ever before. Proponents of an increasingly proactive media base claim that the free press is one of the foundational cornerstones of any democracy, and without so the general public remains uninformed on major political issues.
This is especially true in the age of Trump, when rhetoric and unwarranted claims take precedence over reality and statistical evidence. The reality is that it is the duty of the American press to be vocal about the nation’s ongoings, and without doing such creates a grave threat for the domestic political system, and safety of the international community. In doing so, “When Trump does his job according to the law and basic standards of human decency, the press should have no quibble.
But when he does not, it is neither partisan nor biased to hold him accountable -- either for individual acts or his modus operandi… The wildfire has reached the Capitol steps. Failing to report as much is not just a craven surrender to actual bias, it is a fundamental dereliction of duty.” (Garfield, “Journalist’s Deference and Self-Effacement Must End”)
This sheds light on not only the impact that the mainstream media can have, but moreover the inherent duties and responsibilities ascribed upon members of the free press. The American democracy can only properly function when the integrity of the media is intact. With an administration that unwarrantedly and without facts or evidence denounces and discredits the media, it creates a scenario wherein the citizens that fuel the democratic system are uninformed and unsure as to what to believe. Without a press corps that adheres to these very basic needs and values, the inherent democratic system of the United States is in a position of grave threat and instability.
Another apparent and relevant argument regarding the proactiveness of reporters in the age of Trump, is the fact that in order to preserve American democracy, journalists must put away their biases and work with one another to ensure the ill-intentioned agenda cannot be implemented.
Currently, Trump has been effective in denouncing the media due to the deep-seated biases that exist between many mainstream outlets. For example, Fox News and CNN present to vehemently opposing sides of issues, primarily due to their respective republican and democratic agendas in reporting. However, in the age of Trump, these partisan biases must be laid to rest in order to come together and ensure the longevity and prosperity of American society.
Dictators and authoritarian leaders have thrived on dividing the masses so as to weaken them, and ultimately conquer and impose their ideals. With the current presidential administration, it is seemingly no different. Ann Cooper, a professor at Columbia Journalism School, claims that for journalists, “you’re all in this together.
If you don’t support each other, if you don’t defend each other against attacks, you make all journalists more vulnerable to the politicians who would silence dissent and shut down investigative reporting. It’s a lesson American journalists will learn the hard way if they do not remain unified in this new Age of Trump.” (Cooper, “Journalists Need to Stick Together and Back Each Other Up”)
The fact of the matter is that the American media base has had immense rivalries with one another, largely stemming from the partisan divide that exists between parties not only in the governmental sector, but largely among citizens in the general public as well. As a means of appealing to their specific consumer base, these media outlets have pitted themselves against one another in order to obtain a broader viewership.
However, in an age of unknowns and unfamiliarity with the political landscape, these differences and desire for more viewers and profits must be put aside in order to further and promote the efficacy of the American democratic system. Journalists, given that they are all holding a single job description and same obligatory duties to the general public, must understand the need to act in a bipartisan manner and put to rest the divides that have kept them at odds for so long.
Not to say that this divisiveness has not been beneficial for American society, due to the fact that it presents both sides of an argument, but when it comes to racial biases and the basic inalienable rights we hold as human beings, these differences play no role in the continuity of a liberal society.
So long as these biases become more deep-seated and dividing in nature, it will continue to empower the Trump administration in their unwarranted and unrelenting attacks against the mainstream media. Thus, the argument for a proactive and unified press is vital in ensuring a safe and secure society domestically, due to the attempts by Donald Trump to divide and conquer in the American landscape.
Finally, aside from the arguments of needing to work together and the security of American democracy, perhaps the strongest argument lies in the inherent obligations and job descriptions of journalists as a whole. The reality is that freedom of the press is not instituted and allowed in a vast number of countries throughout the world, meaning that those who partake in the media base here have an invaluable and obligatory duty to report on unlawful issues as their careers are based around that very component.
This can provide the fuel and passion needed to not only maintain the values and ideals of the American system, but to promote a more educated and informed public as a whole, both domestically and globally. In doing so, Brian Stelter of CNN claims that, “reporters are invigorated. ‘This is the time journalists live for. You can feel it, the sense that journalists know this is a historic time for the country and for journalism.
It is the best of times and the most unpredictable of times,’ Stelter said.” (“Darrow, 4 Hard Lessons for the Media in the Age of Trump”) To this end, not only do reporters have the duty of being more proactive than ever before, this is the time that the press base lives for. This is the inherent reasons for which they joined and pursued a career in the media in the first place. Thus, perhaps this truly is the strongest argument for an overly proactive press in the age of Trump.
By being vocal, opinionated, and unrelenting when it comes to their views and the laws and constitutional factors of the United States, now more than ever the country needs a media base that will ensure that information is spread effectively, and that their own jobs are fulfilled to the fullest. Journalists have a deep-seated desire to uncover things that individuals hide when it comes to the law. For those covering Donald Trump and other political factors, this presents an unmatched opportunity to fulfill the purpose of their work and conduct their duty in terms of their careers, for themselves, and for the American people as a whole.
As Betsy Reed of The Intercept claims, the Trump administration should, “serve as a bracing reminder of the need for adversarial journalism -- the kind of reporting that views the claims of powerful officials skeptically while seeking out sources willing to reveal information the government wants to keep hidden but the public has a right to know.” (Reed, “Whistleblowers Will Need to Be Brave, Reporters Must Be Open-Minded”)
This fact could not be more true today than ever before, as the unprecedented election of a non-politician to the highest political office in the country, if not the global community, has been usurped by a racially-fueled and openly biased individual that may implement his ill-intentioned agenda if the general public is not made aware of these plans.
Overall, when analyzing the role of journalists in the age of Trump, it is evident why the debate has arisen to prominence, as well as why the outcome of an answer remains to be hesitantly considered. The fact of the matter is that Donald Trump, with his explicit and degradational claims against the mainstream media, is not only delegitimizing a crucial component of American democracy, but is inherently attempting to use unwarranted means to fortify his position in office.
This, ultimately, will allow him to conduct his divide and conquer approach that he implemented in his elections campaign, but now do so on a much more dangerous and widespread scale. Although some believe that journalists should take the upcoming months and years of his presidency with a grain of salt, and be overly cautious as to the stories that are reported, this could very well work against the best interests of the American people and democratic system.
Rather, now more than ever, the press corps has the obligatory duties to be more proactive than previous years in outlining and uncovering the activities of the Trump administration. By working in a unified manner, as well as understanding that their legitimacy and integrity fuels the American democratic system, reporters must work effortlessly in identifying and determining any unlawful actions of the current administration.
If the United States is to continue being the edifice of liberal democracy in the global community, the mainstream media and journalists must show the world that the components of American democracy are fully effective, so as to educate the general public and deter any unwanted complications in the near future.
- Chittum, Ryan. "The Media Shouldn’t Overreact to Donald Trump." The New York Times, 19 Jan. 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2017/01/19/media-in-the-age-of-trump/the-media-shouldnt-overreact-to-donald-trump.
- Cooper, Ann. "Journalists Need to Stick Together and Back Each Other Up." The New York Times, 19 Jan. 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2017/01/19/media-in-the-age-of-trump/journalists-need-to-stick-together-and-back-each-other-up.
- Darrow, Barb. "4 Hard Lessons for the Media in the Age of Trump." Fortune, 01 Feb. 2017, http://fortune.com/2017/02/01/media-lessons-donald-trump/.
- Garfield, Bob. "Journalist’s Deference and Self-Effacement Must End." The New York Times, 19 Jan. 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2017/01/19/media-in-the-age-of-trump/journalists-deference-and-self-effacement-must-end.
- O'Neill, Alexander. "Media in the Age of Trump." The Politic, 19 Mar. 2017, http://thepolitic.org/opinion-media-in-the-age-of-trump/.
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