Trump’s America: Feelings over Reason

It’s a toxic environment for news media dedicated to verifiable facts.

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Republicans, now aided by Donald Trump, have backed traditional news media into a corner.

The New York Times, Washington Post and CNN are counter-punching with undiminished vigor, but it’s a no-win for fact-based reporting.

Local news media suffer by association with the increasingly reviled national news media as critics embrace Trump’s fact-free world.

From the Oval Office to local buffets and unemployment lines, it’s as if Daniel Patrick Moynihan never uttered his now-famous epigram, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

For residents of GOP/Trump America, feelings count for more than reason, science is bunk and so-called alternative facts define reality. It’s a toxic environment for news media dedicated to verifiable facts.

And we’re enablers. 

Too many news media gave Trump an uncritical pass during the primaries because his outlandish outbursts made entertaining news. 

Sowing fear and giving discontents a megaphone was a winning strategy and one with which Trump and his handlers were familiar. 

That’s why we’re still in a corner, trying to explain ourselves to neighbors who’ll never believe us even if they happen to read or hear us. Everything we say is filtered through their passionate, if ill-informed beliefs. 

Meanwhile, Trump’s Ministry of Truth spreads disinformation, fraudulent claims and what the Soviets called Agitprop, the mixture of agitation and propaganda. 

Not that long ago, news media set local and national agendas. We didn’t tell people what to think; instead, our best reporting suggested what to think about. 

You may have hated the jingle “I read it in the Enquirer,” but that ear worm represented prevailing confidence in the news media. 

That confidence reflected a consensus on the need for a common body of accurate information from which we could argue over public policy. That archaic concept is dead, buried with the trust once enjoyed by the news media.

Today, we reveal our politics by whom we quote: Fox News or Breitbart, NPR or New York Times

This corrosive problem erupted during the primaries when news media allowed Trump to define the narrative. We’re still talking about what he wants us to talk about.

Americans have wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Americans have growing economic inequality, Repub-lican suppression of minority voting, assaults on environmental and work-place regulations, etc. 

You can read or hear about them every day, but what are news media arguing about? White House advisor Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts.” It’s the perfect deflection. 

Her assertions are not facts of any kind, but the expression is so embedded in our political lexicon that it no longer requires quote marks around it.   

Reporters who call attention to her fantasies, alternative facts and lies are dismissed as purveyors of “false news.”

Now, news media argue over whether to even use “false news” and “false facts.” If they’re facts or news, they’re not false; if they’re false, they’re not news.

Tell that to the vast majority of Americans who do not read newspapers but who rely on Facebook as their primary news source. 

So when news media plead that Americans must know what our government is doing, we are dismissed as self-serving.

When we flinch and absorb these hits to our integrity, we become grumbling accomplices in a slow, agonizing demise.

The attack is accelerating, led by the president and sustained by the fear-mongering Ministry of Truth and right-wing talk radio, aided and abetted now by conservative and alt-right websites. 

I trace the worst of this back to the Contract with America when Newt Gingrich and fellow Republicans mounted their relentless partisan campaign to delegitimize traditional news media. 

They too set the narrative. Fact-based reporting became “mainstream” news media whose contents threatened the virtue of real Americans. 

It was a warning to the faithful: read/listen at your peril. 

If that wasn’t dismissive enough, Sarah Palin gave us “lamestream” news media. You betcha it stuck. 

New York reporters knew and loathed Trump for years. Other reporters got a bitter taste of Trump’s contempt when he cordoned them away from supporters at his campaign events. 

After inauguration, press secretary Sean Spicer and Trump abused reporters to their faces, confident this would go down well among their supporters. 

Spicer reinforced reporters’ anxieties when he began to favor rightwing journalists at press conferences and refused to include most major news media from one of his official briefings.

And it was no surprise when Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, excluded working press during his first visit to China. 

“I’m not a big media press access person,” the former head of global ExxonMobil said. 

The sole reporter he included represented the conservative Independent Journal Review, a website the Guardian said was partly owned by a top advisor to Vice President Mike Pence. 

Pollsters tell us that Americans increasingly are embracing the GOP’s dystopian dream of Trump’s Ministry of Truth versus adversarial journalists.

What scares me is the likelihood that many Trump supporters will continue to embrace whatever the Ministry of Truth tells them; they believe Trump despite abundant verifiable evidence to the contrary. 

The Ministry of Truth knows this. It never relents; journalists are false, fake and dishonest, the Enemy of the American People.

After all, they’re calling the president a liar.

CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: [email protected]

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