Political Struggle in a Time of Polarization
Journalism’s role is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
Journalist Finley Peter Dunne (as bartender Mr. Dooley) ca 1900
It’s no secret Donald Trump hates The New York Times. "It’s one of the most dishonest media outlets I’ve ever seen in my life. The worst. The absolute worst!” he said. It’s probably his greatest nemesis, given it’s America's flagship newspaper and is doing its best to afflict his comfort level as much as possible. The Times is now using the word "lie" in headlines and stories to refer to Trump pronouncements.
The true horror of the moment may reside in the notion the next four years are as much a mystery to Donald Trump as they are to most Americans and citizens of the world. Uncertainty, provocation and chaos are the tools of his dark genius. For better or worse, the nation is adjusting to politics as an unfolding reality drama with aspects reminiscent of the old days of MAD, or Mutual Assured Destruction, when it was national policy to have your opponent uncertain you were not crazy.
As the central player in a multi-billion-dollar political telenovela production called Washington DC: Making America Great Again, the last thing Mr. Trump wants is a crack team of dirty-fingernail, print investigative journalists who think they’re saving the nation poking around in his trash or among his friends and enemies. Times reporters don't seem to understand that they have been reduced to the level of political opponents. How does a reality star make them behave? He must diminish their character as loathsome, dishonest and immoral seducers or whores. He must punish them by cutting their access to his inner circle. When he can, he will turn a thuggish fan element against the press. Maybe at some point some heads will be broken, or at least he'll put the notion in their minds. Truth is an antidote to Power, but to be effective, like a pill for some ailment, it must be taken and digested. Convince people the pill is useless, tastes terrible and even has dangerous side effects and power trumps truth every time. Fluoride was a communist plot.
Trump has suggested he might use his and others’ vast resources to bring journalism to its knees with burdensome lawsuits aimed at softening libel laws. At a press conference he dis’ed CNN for first running the rumor (it wasn’t quite a story) that there might be some dirt to be revealed about Trump and Russian hookers. Either because it wasn’t true or because it was true, Trump got angry. The CNN reporter was shut down. With a right wing Supreme Court it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the right could do damage to the current libel laws. Doing things like injecting the idea of privacy into the libel mix, they might turn libel laws into the legal equivalent of electrified fencing and security around a gated estate. The key case on libel since the 1960s has been Sullivan versus The New York Times, which enshrined the principle that you can’t libel a “public figure.” Who knows where Trump-influenced rulings on Libel Law might stray?