Thursday, May 11, 2017

From the Edge: Fourth Estate under attack

Russian news service TASS, was quick to release this photo showing Donald Trump welcoming Russian Foreign Minister Sergev Lavrov, left, and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, right

ALMOST LOST in the chaos surrounding the firing of FBI director James Comey was what happened yesterday morning. Donald Trump met with Russia's highest ranking diplomat Foreign Minister Sergev Lavrov. 

The White House declared the unusual meeting to be closed press, meaning that reporters couldn’t attend and cover independently.

One news agency was allowed in: The Russian news agency TASS.

What has our nation come to when the U.S. chief executive trusts Russia's government-controlled media more than American media? 

Exacerbating the tension in Washington, the TASS photographs that came out of that meeting show Donald Trump yukking it up with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the man Gen. Michael Flynn met with before becoming National Security advisor.

The jovial picture, the timing of the meeting in the midst of the Comey firing over the Russian probe, just does not look good.

Prior to the meeting, MSNBC reporter Andrea Mitchell shouted out a question to the foreign minister, "Does the Comey firing cast a shadow over your talks, gentlemen?" Lavrov smirked, "Was he fired? You are kidding! You are kidding!" shrugged his shoulders and walked into the meeting. 

The night before, a U.S. reporter got arrested because he asked a question a government official didn't want to answer.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, accompanied by spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway, was winding up a day in Charleston, West Virginia when a local reporter, Dan Heyman of Public News Services asked him if domestic violence could be a pre-existing condition in the GOP proposed American Health Care Act.

When Price ignored him, he persisted to throw out questions. “Do you think that’s right or not, secretary?” Heyman began asking a question, according to a recording an audio recording Heyman provided to The Washington Post. “You refuse to answer? Tell me no comment.”

He was “causing a disturbance by yelling questions at Ms. Conway and Secretary Price,” the complaint says, according to the Post.

The criminal complaint filed against Heyman by capitol police says h was “causing a disturbance by yelling questions at Ms. Conway and Secretary Price,”

He was released later that night after posting a $5,000 bail. Herman said that he was just doing his job as a journalist.

The legal director of the ACLU West Virginia, Jamie Lynn Crofts, spoke to reporters on Tuesday night outside the capitol, after Heyman had been taken into custody.

“Our First Amendment rights are under attack every day, particularly from the Trump administration. And it’s not surprising to me that an incident like this would happen when a reporter tried to ask a question of a member of the Trump administration,” she said.

Trump has battled with the mainstream media throughout his campaign and now that he is in office, he is under more intense scrutiny by the press. He has called into question one of the institutional pillars of U.S. democracy by calling their reporting "fake news" and his administration considers the media an "opponent."

The Fourth Estate has been criticized the last few years because they didn't take Trump serious enough from the outset of his campaign and rushing to his media availability hoping the candidate would blurt out another outrageous statement. By the time the media caught on to Trump's manipulative entertainment-as-value strategy to gain airtime and printed space - it was too late. Trump had  the momentum to defeat his GOP rivals and to upset Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

As someone who was inspired to become a journalist by the work exposing Watergate, the media's fall from grace is especially disheartening.

The public view of the media has deteriorated over the years as media outlets began to reflect a particular point of view, most notably Fox News which espoused conservative perspectives. In reaction, other networks began reporting with a liberal bent. 

In recent polls, journalists usually ranked near the bottom in how the public viewed them. 

Recently, some of the media have bent over backwards to appear "fair," by giving credence to some outlandish claims by climate-change deniers and anti-vaccine advocates. 

The New York Times recently added a noted climate-change denier to their oped retinue of columnists. They might as well give equal space to flat-earth believers and the followers of white nationalists. By giving time and space to these discredited viewpoints, leaving it to the reader to wade through the "he said, she said," muck. Even though there is a firewall between the opinion editors and the newsroom, the public doesn't make that distinction. At some point, the media has to distinguish between the facts and B.S. for a public inundated with information.

Apparently, in the Trump era, media outlets feel this need to create this false balance in order to keep subscribers or viewers who want to believe the disinformation espoused by these discredited pundits. What needs to done is to separate the "populist" views from fact-based information. Fake news, or phony opinions, is like a cancer, it spreads and throws into question all other news stories.

Journalists can save their profession by doing what they should have been doing all along: questioning the powerful, digging for the hidden motives, following the money, explaining the complex, and reporting the truth. By doing their job, they can save the republic. We are not yet living in a dictatorship.

There are signs the media is beginning to live up to its role in our democracy if they continue to dig into the Comey firing, the Russian connections to the Trump campaign, the role of the NRA on congressional campaigns and the impact of the GOP-sponsored health proposal.

It's a sad state of affairs when our nation's democratic institutions such as the free press and the courts can be threatened and shaken by 124 character pronouncements. If ever there is a time for journalists to step up their efforts in reporting what's happening and uncovering hidden motives, it is now.

"If you want to preserve — I'm very serious now — if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press," said Sen. John McCain. "And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That's how dictators get started."


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