Love to Hate Him, Baby
Beware, American media. Neutralise your bias. Trump-hatred is just self-serving self-righteousness
In September 2004, the US mainstream media’s attempted hit job of President George W Bush backfired spectacularly when CBS, one of the ‘Big Three’ broadcast networks, had to pull down a story alleging that Bush shirked duty in the Vietnam War.
Two leading journalists resigned after an enquiry found fault with the reportage. It was the first big blow to mainstream media from the rapidly growing blogger and online journalist community.
Fast forward to 2016 and replace George W Bush with Donald J Trump. The Western mainstream media’s obsession with targeting a democratically elected leader with slander, innuendo, outright lies and gross misreporting only because he is culturally dissimilar or has different ideas than their own seems to have come back with a vengeance.
Bleating About That Bush
Bush was variously labelled an idiot, a man who couldn’t spell straight and who came to power only on the back of Bible-thumpers. Oh, of course, he was nominated by the US Supreme Court and not elected by the people. Trump similarly is a philanderer, a womaniser, a man with a foul mouth and temperament unfit to be leader of the free world.
The first two weeks of the Trump presidency showed us what he can do as president. But it also showed us that the Western mainstream media cannot be trusted with delivering fair and accurate reportage of the Trump administration’s actions and policies. A media obsessed with a president’s alleged unsuitability when he was a private citizen is shooting self-goals and bringing down its own credibility.
Consider: a leading newspaper reports, despite contrary evidence, that Trump’s nominee for US Energy Secretary and former Texas governor, Rick Perry, was clueless about the department’s responsibility for taking care of nuclear weapons.
AWhite House journalist for a leading international magazine tweets wrongly that Trump has replaced a bust of Martin Luther King in the Oval Office and then apologises when it was found to be untrue.
A few news portals claimed that US Treasury Secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin’s firm had foreclosed a 90-year-old-widow’s loan putting her on the street. A careful check of court records showed there was no such thing. Trump’s controversial executive order is variously a ‘Muslim ban’, an ‘immigration ban’ and a ‘refugee ban’. A check of the executive order shows the word ‘Muslim’ has not been used. And, of course, there is no comprehensive immigration or refugee ban. A Muslim from India or Indonesia is free to emigrate. So are people from all other countries except the seven named on the list.
In the Washington Post piece ‘Chill America, not every Trump outrage is outrageous’ (goo.gl/KaQ3x8), Tom Nichols of the Naval War College takes the media to task for crying wolf all the time. “Trump’s opponents in the media seem determined to overreact on ordinary matters,” he writes.
It is not the media’s job to declare war on the elected leader of a country. It is not their job to lead a mass civil disobedience movement. Their job, irrespective of the ideology of the government, is to provide comprehensive coverage of policies and actions in a fair and balanced manner. Criticise Trump if you want to. But also praise him and his policies if the facts warrant it.
Don’t Go Down Under
The problem with this antagonistic approach is that it prevents any normal discussion about policy and its objectives and goals. Take the recent kerfuffle with refugees from Australia. Very little discussion has taken place about the soundness of the policy. Why should the US take refugees that Australia doesn’t want? Trump’s usage of the word ‘dumb’ may not have pleased purists. But should that cloud a fair debate on the deal that Barack Obama had struck?
Reuters and some other news outlets have issued guidelines on how to cover the Trump administration. What stands out are three points: cover what matters in people’s lives; don’t worry about handouts and official access; get out in the country and learn more about what people think.
These are universal truths in journalism. You get better stories through field work, not waiting for official handouts. You learn more about people and the country you want to cover by travelling and meeting ordinary people, not by sucking up to the powers that be. If journalists had done that in the Obama administration, they would have realised the anger against his policies.
If journalists had done that properly during the 2016 election, they would have realised the anger against Hillary Clinton and the support for Trump. Anyway, better late than never.
There is a lesson in this for the Indianmedia.Don’tgetconsumedbyyour hatred or love for the Narendra Modi government. Plan comprehensive coverage of all his policies in a fair and balanced manner. Let people decide. Your job is not to bring down the government or make it unpopular.
The Irish magazine, Village, recently put an image of Trump in crosshairs with a very suggestive ‘Why Not’ headline. It was actually calling on people to assassinate the US president. If this is the way the media is going to react to every Trump action, it will be the media’s reputation that will go down in flames, not the Trump presidency.
Warning: this image has been Photoshopped