On January 12, 2017, I posted a piece about the January 11th press conference in which Donald Trump called CNN “fake news.” Here is a link to the video of that press conference on Youtube: https://youtu.be/uiaC0rYa6m4.
It was a brilliant example of political theater, and I felt was missing from the discussion, so I added it. I reread my piece this morning, and I was amazed at how current it felt as I read it. It sounds like it might have appeared in yesterday’s newspaper. So I decided to reprint it for you here today.
I do not believe I have ever met a person with anything approaching real respect for what we commonly call “the media.” I have met some members of local media at one time or another; perhaps they have real respect for the media. They are part of it, after all. But most people I speak to have something approaching real disdain for the media. Yet, for some reason, when the media sources say things we agree with, we say, “See, look at this; a reputable news source said this.” Our society is fickle about the media.
One of the reasons we continue to watch the media, though, is that we want to know what is going on. We want to be part of the conversation. We want to be able to stand our ground when “our candidate” receives ridicule (often justifiably). Does any of this actually help us to be better citizens, though? Are we more charitable to our frenemies because we watched the evening news? Are we better fathers, husbands, mothers, wives, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, cousins, grandparents, grandchildren—because we spent an hour reading about the lack of peace in the middle east?
I wrestle with this. I have chosen to embark on a decade-old idea of writing cultural commentary. So I spend time reading articles that I don’t expect others to read. But this has put me in a quandary. One of the reasons I want to do this is because I believe that I have something to offer in this arena, but what I have to offer is sound reasoning and a refusal to accept partial truth. Unfortunately, this limits what I can write about, because I don’t have time to read enough to understand everything about everything. I could choose a small town in America—say, 2,500 people—and never run out of news, because I couldn’t exhaust the knowable information unless I were omnipresent. And there’s a reason God doesn’t make us omnipresent or omniscient. I, for one, couldn’t possibly handle responsibly all of that knowledge. Another reason I want to do this, however—and this is what really produces the quandary—is that I want to encourage others to not take anyone else’s word for something—including my own—when the facts are readily available to each of us. But encouraging people to think, to research, and to reason for themselves puts them in the same awkward position it puts me: too much information, too little time.
Last night, while I was preparing supper, I chose to watch President-elect Donald Trump’s press conference. I wish everyone would watch it for themselves. The entire thing is on Facebook and PBS and probably a dozen other places. Most of us have established opinions about Trump, so I doubt this press conference will change anyone’s mind about him, but at least you’ll get to see it for yourself. If you think you’ll have any sense of what went on in the press conference by listening to, watching, or reading the bits you see in any of the major (and many of the minor) news organizations, you’re either ignorant or self-deluded. (When I use the word ignorant, I don’t use it in the pejorative; I mean it in its general sense of lacking knowledge in a particular area.) And if you think you’ll have anything close to an accurate summary—much less the whole truth—well, I think you understand already.
One of the problems, though, is that even if you watch it, unless you have enough facts, you can’t even fully appreciate everything that’s going on. Take for example, one of the hot talking points from the press conference, the moment when Trump refuses to answer a reporter’s question, because he works for CNN, whom Trump actually says—yes, in the press conference as part of the exchange with this reporter—is fake news. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that I agree with Trump. CNN is a fake news organization, just as all the major news outlets are. This is not cynicism; this is provable fact. I’m not going to try to prove it at this time—maybe sometime I will, but for now I’ll simply say that if you trust the news you’re hearing from one of the major news organizations, you and I will probably have a hard time discussing anything rationally. We will be constantly talking past one another.
Regardless of whether you agree with me—or Trump—that CNN is a fake news organization, from the standpoint of an observer to the story unfolding in these events, you can appreciate the battle being waged here. CNN reported something in an attempt to damage Trump’s credibility; that report proved to be mostly false. So Trump refusing to answer a question from CNN makes sense—if you have the background. If you don’t know the background, then it might just look like a kind of temper tantrum from Trump—another mercurial display from an unstable man. Without the knowledge of what went on prior to the heated exchange between Trump and the CNN reporter in this press conference, the real import of the exchange is lost. Is this a case of the loose cannon firing again? Is this a case of the new soon-to-be president trying to silence the press? Is this a case of the new leader of the United States of America trying to impose his will on the American public? Is this a case of the great orange one foreshadowing the repeal of the second amendment and the imposition of his fascist rule upon our land? Or is this a case of a man standing up for his honor and the honor of others whose reputations were equally besmirched by the false report?
Whether we like Barack Obama or Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton—or any other of our oh-so-wonderful politicians—we have a duty to ourselves to seek the truth. You know the lines by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, I’m sure. (What educated English speaker hasn’t at least heard them?) In our pursuit of truth, we must be “strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” We must be firm in our resolve to pursue truth. And if we want to preserve our nation’s honor—what remains of it—we must not give in to anyone, on any side, who is willing to settle for less than the truth—who is willing to attempt to manipulate their audience by shading the truth or telling partial truth.