The president complains about the press which means the press is doing its job
The Short Version
The 45th president, in a rambling 77-minute press conference that resembled the chaos of his administration, repeatedly picked on, attempted to bully, and called out specific members of the press. “Out of control” and “fake press” he calls them. Yet, whether the president likes it or not, they’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to do: keep the government from lying about what it’s doing.
A Little History
Ever wonder why the freedom of the press is guaranteed in the US Constitution? The founders had seen the fallacies of a government-controlled press not only under King George III but all across most of Europe at that time. Kings of the 18th century kept very careful control over the information that the public received regarding matters of the crown, and often the picture that was painted was nowhere close to the truth. When framing the amendments of the Constitution, those early patriots wanted a press that would be part of the checks and balances of government.
Of course, that ultimately meant they would sometimes write what presidents didn’t want people to know. Thomas Jefferson was perhaps the first to call the press liars. “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle,” he wrote in 1807. Whether Mr. Jefferson was correct in his assertion is now a matter of historical debate. No one is around to set the record straight.
Other presidents have had difficult relationships with the press as well. Richard Nixon’s tirades are well documented, as are his attempts to bug the phones of journalists. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had their moments of frustration with the press as well.
What’s worth noting, however, it that every time this has happened, the dominant reason for the feud is the press doggedly calling out the president and, in some cases, his administration, for what they are doing. The Washington Post blew open Watergate. The New York Times closely reported on both Clinton and Bush. The high degree of surveillance given the current president is no different than his predecessors.
The difference is that there’s more for the press to write.
A Difficult Relationship
There’s little question that the relationship between the press and the president has become more adversarial over the years. Gone are the days when the White House press corp would help keep a secret as significant as President Roosevelt’s polio disability or John F. Kennedy’s extramarital dalliances. The modern press is more aggressive in looking for their stories and less trusting of official White House communications.
What makes the relationship with the 45th president more thorny that before is the fact that even before he was elected this president was repeatedly caught in outright lies as he attempted to skew information in his favor and cover errors he had made. The candidate who would become president wasn’t alone in using that tactic, however, and lies and misstatements became so commonplace within the campaigns that fact-checking became a regular requirement after ever speech by every candidate.
Even now, the Associated Press still fact checks every statement coming out of the White House. This morning’s article checks the validity of the president’s statement that he “inherited a mess” from the Obama administration. The AP finds that the president’s statement, once again, the president is either lying, misleading, or totally ignoring evidence to the contrary. You can read the full article for yourself here.
Is the AP out of control? No, they’re just doing their job in keeping the president and his White House honest.
Is every member of the press so responsible? Of course not.
Long before there were websites totally given to biased accounts of the news, there were tabloids that filled their pages with nothing but lies and nonsense. We knew that they were nothing but lies and nonsense even when they ran stories as ridiculous as Elvis Presley being alive and waiting tables in some rural backwater town. Yet, people kept buying the tabloids carefully positioned at the checkout of the local grocery store. The difference between then and now is that people would read the stories and laugh. Now, people read the same kind of nonsense and believe it.
The fact that there are millions of people who are willing to believe ridiculous stories from the most dubious of sources gives credence to the president’s assertion that the press is lying. He stands in an incredibly long press conference that seems to have no central purpose and after several minutes declares, “I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people. But I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I’m having a good time doing it.” The same people who once believed the tabloid stories about werewolf babies from Mars are all too willing to believe that the press is intentionally being dishonest.
However, the majority of press members, including but not limited to the hundreds of local daily newspapers, are not dishonest. Instead, they are finding and reporting the dishonesty of the president’s administration, a level of oversight to which the president is not accustomed. In his previous life, the man who is now president could easily enough blow off questions from the press, retreat to his gold-encrusted penthouse, and let any potential storm blow over. His actions then rarely affected anyone outside his business dealings. Now, every word he tweets and every off-hand remark he makes has the potential to become a national crisis, and much of it has.
Contrary to his assertion that he is running “a well-oiled machine,” the chaos of his administration is so evident that one doesn’t really need the filter of the press in order to see what is happening.
From the Associated Press:
[The president’s] first month has been consumed by a series of missteps and firestorms, and produced far less significant legislation than Obama enacted during his first month.
Republican-led congressional committees will investigate the [president’s] team’s relations with Russians before he took office and the flood of leaks that altogether forced out his national security adviser in record time. His pick for labor secretary withdrew because he didn’t have enough Republican support.
By many measures, the administration is in near paralysis in its earliest days, leaving allies unsettled and many in Congress anxious about what Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., called the “constant disruption.” To many Republicans — never mind Democrats — the “fine-tuned machine” seems in danger of its wheels coming off.
Perhaps what the president means when he asserts that the press is “out of control” is that it is out of his control, which is exactly the way it should be. The press is doing its job and for a president who made his way into office on lies and misinformation, the harsh glare of honest light is one he finds painful.