“I want you to quote this: ‘The media here is the opposition party.’” Most people would consider this brazenly blatant; not elegantly designed, simply vocalized to “draw a line in the sand.” Even the added prelude, “I want you to quote this” adds a sense of urgency. Yet, Stephen Bannon stated this with a calm inflection during a phone call with the NY Times, seemingly making the statement seem offhand; automatically relevant. However, his tone matched the candid manner of President Trump during his speech at the CIA headquarters in Langley, “… as you know I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.” The line was met with applause and cheers amongst the intelligence community.
In a neurotic, obsessive manner, the Trump administration and the media are, in a new-found way, at war. The media willing and able to portray Trump as a maladroit, inept buffoon. Trump cheerfully painting the media as cynical, incurable puritans that give false, nit-picked counterfactuals. A cycle that I could only really describe as a rat race; an ongoing, eroding fight between the people that create images and the man who desperately needs to keep a good one. A squabble that doesn’t just play out in news banners and TV discussions, but also in the legions of Facebook pages found online, harboring a much more intimate connection to the issues.
Now I understand that this is all fairly abstract thinking, so let’s get concrete. To start, let’s talk about the recent controversy concerning the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd. What seemed more like a meaningless opinion poll now became a national headline when Trump addressed the CIA, “But we had a massive field of people. You saw them. Packed. I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field. I say, wait a minute, I made a speech. I looked out, the field was — it looked like a million, million and a half people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there.”
What is peculiar about this situation is that this war is being waged over an issue that solves nothing; for this isn’t about policy, nor is it about legislation or programs or helping people, but instead is about a reaction. What could be, and honestly should be more irritating is Trump’s talk on voter fraud, yet that gets drowned out.
After Trump announced these comments, people went to social media with two separate pictures, one coming from Trump’s inauguration livestream and the other from a Reuter’s photographer. Both pictures displayed a fairly sparse National Mall during the hours of Trump’s inauguration. Not to long after that people created other posts, as well as unsourced stories, that compared the size of Trump’s crowd to Obama’s 2009 inauguration. As if the size of the crowd directly correlates to what kind of president Donald Trump is going to be; in essence an online graphic reached the president’s own mouth. He believed it undermined his new presidency, an attack by the media to downplay the significance of what he believed to be a historical moment.
Soon after, Sean Spicer, the new press secretary for the White House, took the podium and addressed the photos; going so far as to provide his own, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period; both in person and around the globe.” The argument in the media then instantly became holding him accountable to those number, no matter how literally Spicer’s words must be taken.
The Trump strategy seems to be a twist-and-turn scenario; don’t just deny that the media is lying, but that they are lying about something so imperial, an entity “too big to fail.” Now that’s not say that the media shouldn’t hold Spicer accountable for saying these falsehoods, especially after Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway went on Meet the Press and decided these aren’t “falsehoods” but that Spicer gave “alternative facts.” The question is then, at what point is Trump just trying to work around traditional media, because that’s a big problem.
Media is this obscure, recondite word that encapsulates all communication. In our times, communication presents itself in many forms: speech, text, visuals, even the more nontraditional social media and television. Traditional media, news coming from reporters and being reported through newspapers and articles has been suffering long before this “war” with Trump. Journalism in general has spread so thin on the internet it can be hard to find this abstruse sense of truth. Opinions can be diluted through something as simple as a graphic posted on someone’s Facebook page; graphics similar to the photo comparison of the two inaugurations. Traditional media, in Trump’s eyes has lost credibility due to the fact it did not predict his coming, and that it must fix itself by remaining quiet to his doings. Again, at what point is Trump just trying to bypass traditional media?
A better way to define media is the bodies that frame the public discourse, and that Trump’s administration wants to usurp that ability for itself and be able to set its own rules. The war is over the ability to set the parameters of public discourse, in a sense to define what is to be considered true. That things like Twitter and Facebook allow people with immense power and influence to bypass barriers that were set up for accountability alone, and that without these barriers, there is no truth; abstract or not. That if enough get behind something, if enough ridicule, whether it be Trump’s supporters or fans, I can change public discourse through something as simple as knowing how to design a picture.
The fault does not escape the media as well, for they jumped on this story just as easily as Trump, because it’s easy; quite often becoming Facebook fodder. Now I don’t believe every media outlet is at fault for this because there still rests that need for accountability. What I do believe though is that these stories metastasize, self-replicate. That sooner or later the story becomes a study of a reaction of a reaction of a reaction ad infinitum; neither side waning, instead only seeking blame. This isn’t what journalism is, it was never supposed to be this constantly hungry entity having to hold its reputation so closely to its chest.
A solution to a problem like this escapes me, because it systemic; so remarkably ingrained in how we interpret reactions and how we decide to react ourselves. To bring the complication down to its basic form it is the instantaneous, automatic reaction we have when we see something like the inauguration pictures. It is the feeling we get when we see someone undermine or humiliate our ideologies. When people do this, we think that they are against us personally; against the things that I hold dear and true to my heart. That these people aren’t just mistaken, but they are malicious; standing head strong against ideas of decency themselves.
This is how Trump and Bannon react to things like this. That not only are they wrong but they must be against everything that I stand for, and there is hypocrisy in that. The same hypocrisy that lies in the dialectic of politics. The one that says every Republican must be a bigoted, sexist, immigrant hating mongrel who would kill to keep his gun, when the nature of it might just be people afraid their taxes are getting away from them, or that they worry that unemployment in their town is beginning to corrode its foundations. Or that all Democrats are these cry baby, borderline one world communists that don’t understand the value of commerce or hard work, when the reality is they are people worried about the glibness of a society that is willing to give a fetus a chance but not refugees on the other side of the gates. The capital T truth remains that to fix something like this takes will; it takes time and effort. It takes for Trump supporters to hold Trump accountable and for his opponents to do the same for the media. The solution is to defeat our assumptions; decouple them and I swear you will be doing more for the sake of truth then you ever have.