Dating back to the birth of the United States, there has always existed a recognized, but unofficial, extra leg of the government: the fourth estate.
It’s an established check on all three branches in Washington, D.C. It monitors politics to ensure that political players don’t abuse the democratic process, and it has the power to expose wrongdoing like none other.
Sound familiar? You might know it better as the press, or the news media. From Watergate, to the Pentagon Papers, to details in recent years on the National Security Agency, the media has provided our country’s check that the government continues to work for its people.
While most people see it as necessary, President Donald J. Trump and his administration have seemingly deemed that check as excess components of democracy during their first week in power.
But rather than fighting the First Amendment protection of the press — a likely futile effort — Trump’s people have employed a more realistic strategy: create distrust in the media among Americans.
Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, started his role in the White House by laying the groundwork for diminishing the media’s credibility on Jan. 21.
In his first press conference as press secretary, Spicer attacked the media, saying it inaccurately reported the size of the crowd attending Trump’s inauguration. In reality, there was clear evidence to the contrary.
Instead of focusing on our president’s new policies, Spicer chose to pick at a small issue and label reporters as liars and deceivers.
If Spicer can use his position to take a straightforward fact — that Trump’s inauguration crowd was smaller than Obama’s record crowd, as proven by pictures — and argue the opposite, he can put doubt in people’s minds about the truth of media reports. The Trump administration can then use that mistrust to diminish reporters’ credibility on more crucial topics over the next four years.
Even in former President Barack Obama’s White House, which had little transparency, reporters didn’t have to worry about losing credibility when they correctly and ethically did their jobs.
In covering the new administration, the media will need to change how it does business. CNN led the way on Jan. 23. When it decided not to air Spicer’s first official press briefing live, abandoning what was common practice under previous administrations.
With that decision, CNN is throwing Spicer and Trump’s accusations back at them. The news giant doesn’t believe that everything Spicer will say in his press briefings will be factual, so it’s holding the clips to edit out anything it deems false.
The network’s call came one week after Trump berated CNN Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta, calling CNN’s coverage “fake news” and refusing to allow Acosta to ask a question.
Fake news is an epidemic. It hurt the democratic process and likely swayed voters in the past presidential election, but there is a difference between fake news and news you don’t like. Trump and his administration have cast aside valid articles by portraying them in a negative light, questioning the credibility and accuracy of those stories.
While some reporters might not leave out their personal beliefs when reporting on Trump, the media outlets admonished by Trump and his administration are filled with the best reporters in the country, ones who have refined their crafts for years. They know what news to report, and they know the right way to tell the true story.
There’s a reason these reporters make up the fourth estate, and that watchdog responsibility shouldn’t be discredited just because Trump and his administration want an upper hand for the next for years.