“Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.” – Timothy Snyder, author of “The Road to Unfreedom”
One of the consequences of the evolution of social media is the enrichment of public awareness – a phenomenon that has by-passed the traditional vendors of information: newspapers, magazines, and television. In 1896 the new owner of the New York Times, in an effort cast his newspaper as a counter to the Hearst newspaper empire of yellow journalism, crafted this motto: “All the news that’s fit to print” – an ideal that came to be known as the most famous 7 words in American journalism.
And for a century we have sought to differentiate the non-fiction of American life from the richly embellished fiction of popular culture – the need to cultivate a broadly informed America out of the dense tapestry of a diverse culture seeking entertainment, seeking distraction from the mundane activities of daily life. But our American non-fiction has another purpose, separate from educating the public. Simply put, without American journalism, the phrase, “who will guard the guards themselves? – “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes” – would go unanswered. It is a question asked in varying forms by Plato in 381 B.C in his treatise, Republic, and throughout the evolution of democratic governance.
So, when Donald Trump’s demagogic attacks on the American press go unanswered and unchallenged, the bridge to rule of law begins to crumble. We risk losing the watchmen who serve as controls on the powerful. Trump’s “lyin’ press” meme is not merely a spectacle meant to bully journalists, nor is his revocation of Jim Acosta’s press pass merely a rebuke intended to distract. It is a poison pill. It is a specific tactic intended to implement a government coup. It is the same path Vladimir Putin took to make all Russian media state-owned. Sardonically labeling Fox News as “trump TV” by MSNBC is both true and, at the same time, short-sighted. Putin rose to power in Russia in 1999, and by 2009, he controlled 60% of Russian newspapers, and all national TV. And in so doing, Putin used diatribes against “fake news” to convince Russians to abandon truth – to steal freedom in order to usher in his own kleptocracy.
This is precisely what Donald Trump is effectuating in the US. The media consolidation of the Sinclair Broadcast Group and the dominance of Fox News in conservative media – combined with Trump’s sustained attacks on the freedom of the press – are symptoms of an overall effort toward state control of the media. Sound hyperbolic? It’s decidedly not. With Trump in the Executive, a Republican Party committed to the art of appeasement, and a packed Supreme Court, this can be our new reality – and it will dictate America’s new non-fiction. While we will now watch the Democratic controlled House scramble to prioritize its actions based upon what is possible to get passed, an uninformed public will fail to recognize the shibboleth – the true implications of Trump’s “fake news”. And history will record yet another tragic instance when we failed to ask, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”.
Cartoon by Dave Granlund, PoliticalCartoons.com
Deborah Long is a Principal at Development Management Group, Inc. and founder of several non-profit charitable organizations. If you find her perspectives interesting, controversial, or provocative, follow her at: https://www.facebook.com/debby.long.98499?ref=br_rs