Thoughts on First Amendment theater
The Boston Globe, supported by the New England Newspaper & Press Association and Radio Television Digital News Association, solicited editorials to be published August 16th in a “Call to action to protect a free press.”
Their August 10th solicitation said, “The slander of ‘fake news’ has become Donald Trump’s most potent tool of abuse and incitement against the First Amendment, labeling journalists the ‘enemy of the American people’ and ‘dangerous and sick.’”
While opinion and not fake news, their appeal is hobbled by false premises that, even if true, reach a conclusion that does not logically follow.
Proof: A week earlier, Trump tweeted, “They asked my daughter Ivanka whether or not the media is the enemy of the people. She correctly said no. It is the FAKE NEWS, which is a large percentage of the media, that is the enemy of the people!”
The media misdirect attention to the First Amendment rather than hold themselves accountable for reporting often wrong, misleading, or incomplete. They choose loaded words, add phrases, insert catty remarks, and bury ledes.
We know. We edit such copy every day. The president doesn’t “slap” on tariffs; he imposes them. He doesn’t “slash” budgets; he reduces them. We edit out Improvised Editorial Devices (IEDs) that have no place in journalism, like the clause “Ever the showman” designed to shape the mental battlefield. We rearrange copy to focus on what is significant, not salacious. We ignore petty subjects they favor and request coverage of significant ones they overlook.
A journalist is only as good as the last story written, and journalists should approach subjects with a full set of skills and little baggage. That’s hard to do when some are paid by news sources, fed rumors by unnamed sources, or personally involved with those about whom they report.
Quality news articles should be as accurate and complete as a nautical chart. To navigate into port, no sea captain would trust a chart that inserted non-existent shoals or omitted real ones.
Media that buy into this drama are greater fools than they take us to be. The problem grew epidemic as casualness marched though our institutions over the last decades. Schools, government, the press and other promote lack of accountability through complexity, centralization, double standards, and lack of sunshine.
The casual approach to law and procedure surged Donald Trump to victory two years ago. Voters were fed up that regardless of law, officials did what they wanted simply because they believed it was okay. Mainstream media believes what they write is journalism because they believe it themselves and few except Trump called them out.
It echoes the prediction of 1930s Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci who concluded America could not be defeated by war, but rather only by a long march through its institutions.
In the march through the media represented by their editorial call to arms, they misinterpret the strength of democracy to mean “majority rules”.
Actually, Democracy codifies the humility that we just might be wrong, and even the smallest voice can suggest a better way to a citizenry tuned to listen.
Trump is one small voice, and we, not the national media, are the citizenry tuned to listen.
When the media pulls the First Amendment Card on us, they need to be laughed at until they learn what journalism really is.