Threats of legal action are in the air against the media – for doing their jobs. Donald Trump apparently thinks censorship is the solution.
Donald Trump’s long war on the media may be reaching a crescendo. Trump demanded a retraction from The New York Times late Wednesday over a story claiming he inappropriately touched two women, including one inside Trump Tower.
“Your article is reckless, defamatory, and libel per se,” Trump attorney Marc E. Kasowitz wrote in a letter also questioning why the women would wait at least a decade to bring out the accusations. “We hereby demand that you immediately cease any further publication of this article, remove it from your website, and issue a full and immediate retraction and apology. Failure to do so will leave my client with no option but to pursue all available actions and remedies.”
Trump also called the story a “vicious and coordinated attack,” involving The New York Times, the media in general, and Hillary Clinton’s camp during an appearance in Florida. But Trump took his rhetoric a step further, by proclaiming the mainstream media were really lobbyists, instead of real journalists.
“The most powerful weapon deployed by the Clintons is the corporate media. Let’s be clear on one thing: the corporate media in our country is no longer involved in journalism. They are a political special interest, no different than any lobbyist or other financial entity with an agenda. And their agenda is to elect the Clintons at any cost, at any price, no matter how many lives they destroy.
For them, it is war – and for them, nothing is out of bounds.”
This is scary stuff from Trump, and a tactic he’s used on a regular basis when a media outlet doesn’t write nice things about him. Trump famously suggested to Sean Hannity that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was using The Washington Post as a tax dodge, and claimed Bezos is, “using that as a tool for political power against me and against other people. And I’ll tell you what, we can’t let him get away with it… So what they are doing is he’s using that as a political instrument to try and stop antitrust, which he thinks I believe he’s antitrust, in other words, what he’s got is a monopoly. And he wants to make sure I don’t get in. So, it’s one of those things. But I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. What he’s doing’s wrong.”
Here’s the problem with all of this: the media has never been a neutral entity. There are certain journalists out there who don’t vote to keep an air of neutrality, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but the media has never really been unbiased. Look at the major fights from the beginning of the U.S. The Federalists and Anti-Federalists wrote their columns in newspapers which supported one position or the other. Anti-Federalists also attacked John Adams for the Alien and Sedition Acts with their own newspapers and magazines. A sitting congressman was put in jail over an essay he wrote in Vermont Journal because it was critical of Adams’ administration. There were also media fights in the 1820s between supporters of John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. There was never any neutrality in the press.
There are still non-biased journalists out there, who believe in only giving the news, and no spin. That’s a good thing because there is a place for “straight news.” But this is probably more of a niche market found mostly in radio or in stories which involve crime. The Fairness Doctrine or Mayflower Doctrine may be to blame for this, because of the FCC deciding it had to have say over what companies get what as TV and radio became more of a thing.
“In 1941, by way of dictum in a license renewal report, the Federal Communication Commission announced as a rule of policy that the radio broadcaster and his station should be allowed neither to editorialize nor take a stand on any controversial manner.” The Columbia Law Journal wrote on the Mayflower Doctrine in 1948, “This policy appeared as a concomitant to the previously announced position that whenever controversial issues were presented, they were to be treated impartially and objectively.”
The problem with this policy is the government is deciding what should be on the air and what shouldn’t be. The Roosevelt Administration basically forced stations to be “nonbiased” in the interest of “fairness,” probably because they knew radio as a mass media outlet would be able to have an effect on what people believed. This idea was thankfully repealed in 1987.
This doesn’t mean there are politicians out there who want to see the Fairness Doctrine remain in the ashes of history. President Barack Obama showed his own preference for government intervention during a speech this week in Pittsburgh. “We are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to,” the President said. “There has to be, I think, some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests and those that we have to discard, because they just don’t have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world… The answer is obviously not censorship, but it’s creating places where people can say ‘this is reliable’ and I’m still able to argue safely about facts and what we should do about it.”
What Obama and Trump are suggesting is a new version of the Fairness Doctrine, but under what ehy believe are “fair” guidelines. Politicians should not be given this power. It should be in the hands of the consumer to decide whether they want to listen to an opposing view or not.
The sad thing is the Right used to be for creating their own competition to fight back against what ehy viewed was an unfair media. Andrew Breitbart created his own slew of websites, while other places like Reason, TownHall.com, and Watchdog.org provide readers with mostly small government news and opinion. There are also sites like ThinkProgress, Vox, and The Intercept which provide news from a more left-wing viewpoint. The Internet and smart phones have given people the chance to go out and spread information from certain points of view, which can expose different viewpoints and stories others wouldn’t see. This kind of stuff should be celebrated, not trampled on.
There’s nothing wrong with railing against corporate media, and pointing out some of its flaws. The mainstream media definitely deserves criticism for how it’s handled stories like the Wikileaks releases, third party candidates, and stories about corruption. But that’s why smaller outlets are so important because they can expose certain stories and bring about an even bigger story. The answer isn’t trying to break up corporate media through laws or regulations. The answer is letting them die on the vine if they can’t adapt to market changes. If you don’t like something a news outlet reports, put out your own story. It’s what freedom of the press is all about.