Love to Hate Him, Baby

Be­ware, Amer­i­can me­dia. Neu­tralise your bias. Trump-ha­tred is just self-serv­ing self-right­eous­ness

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page Chock-a-block - Sri­ram Ra­makr­ish­nan

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’ (, 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

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