Trump threatens US reporters to make them obedient

English: Donald Trump at a press conference an...

English: Donald Trump at a press conference announcing David Blaine’s latest feat in New York City at the Trump Tower. The photographer dedicates this portrait of Donald Trump to Tony Santiago, Wikipedia editor Marine 69-71, perhaps the most officially recognized and accomplished content contributor to Wikipedia, for his outstanding contributions to improving articles related to his Puerto Rican heritage. He is also a close friend. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For I know that some human beings are like horses—the more they get what they want, the more unruly they are apt to become. The way to manage men like that is to put the fear of the bodyguard into them. Xenophon Hiero 10, 1-3

Donald Trump’s team want to eject journalists from press conferences.[1] At the last press conference, Trump attacked CNN as “fake news.”. In response, Jim Acosta from CNN tried repeatedly to ask a question. Trump refused. After the incident, Sean Spicer[2] is reported to have threatened to eject Mr Acosta.[3] A few days later, Reince Priebus[4] said that press access to the White House was in doubt.[5] Their threats serve a purpose.

If you don’t support the Trump administration, you cannot do your job.

It would appear that Trump wants the press to behave in a way that suits his political interests. He appears to want to change the press by threatening to move them from the White House or by ejecting any reporters he, or his staff, believe are less than helpful to the administration. If we look at the UK, experience, it would appear that US journalists and their companies will need to answer the same question. Will they hold the government to account or will they work for the government?[6]

A free press is one that is not beholden to the government

Throughout its history, the idea of a free press has been central to a healthy democracy.[7] In the United States, the 1st Amendment, which enshrines the right of free speech and a free press, is the basis by which the press help democracy. The press informs the public about the government’s business. The public need the press to be informed about what is happening on their behalf. They need someone to ask the questions they want answered as well as to ask the questions the government might not want to answer. Both are needed to keep the public informed. If the public are not informed public, then democracy cannot work effectively.[8]

The press works to ensure the government serves the public not the party interest

When journalists and their companies work properly they help the public by holding the government to account. They deflate a government’s utopian ambitions. They encourage the government to be better when they are in doubt. Journalists and their companies are expected to be independent from the governments they cover. Even though they may develop a closeness necessary for access, they are independent.

In the UK, that independence died when Margaret Thatcher’s made Rupert Murdoch her media bodyguard.[9] Murdoch reporters are docile, deferential, and demure, when they question, if they question, a figure that Murdoch supports. For Trump, who is supported by Murdoch, reporters need to be as craven as the Murdoch reporters. They do as they are told. They obey.

Stroke the leader’s will or you will be ejected: long live democracy

To eject reporters (or any protestors), Trump has private security.[10] As we know from history, when a leader seeks a bodyguard, they seek to be a tyrant.

All these examples are contained under the same universal proposition, that one who is aiming at a tyranny asks for a bodyguard.[11] (Aristotle, Rhetoric 1357b 19)

Without the bodyguard, the threats would be idle. Instead, the two work together. They habituate the press to be deferential.

Journalists force power to speak the truth

When the press is deferential, they no longer speak truth to power. More to the point, they no longer force power to speak the truth. Instead, they fluff the government to speak as it wants to speak.

 

[1] See http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/news/a52301/trump-evict-press-white-house/ See also https://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/report-trump-administration-white-house-press-corps Despite these reports, one has to note with caution anything from the Trump transition since they have displayed a pattern of “picking fights” to avoid scrutiny, deflect attention, and manage the news cycle. However, given past behaviour, notably the Acosta incident, the plan appears to have credibility and would reflect Trump’s temperament.

[2] Incoming Trump White House Press Secretary

[3] http://www.theblaze.com/news/2017/01/11/report-trump-spox-sean-spicer-threatened-to-eject-cnns-jim-acosta-for-attempting-to-question-trump/

[4] Incoming White House Chief of Staff

[5] http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/reince-priebus-press-access-white-house-hasn-t-been-determined-n707071

[6] In more direct language, they have to ask if they will be journalists or fluffers.

In the pornography industry, there is a specific role called a “fluffer”. https://www.reference.com/business-finance/become-fluffer-d027889a8302f91b The fluffer’s job is to keep the male performer tumescent while the scene is set or changed. A fluffer does this through a variety of methods.

[7] http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/speak-up/article1955056.html

[8] In the UK, the recent Leveson Inquiry explore the relationship between the press and politicians.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/leveson-inquiry/9613965/All-governments-need-their-feet-held-to-the-fire.html  and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21841715

[9] https://mediameditations.wordpress.com/2015/12/20/murdoch-as-the-prime-ministers-media-bodyguard/

[10] http://www.politico.com/story/2016/12/donald-trump-security-force-232797

[11]http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0060%3Abekker+page%3D1357b

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About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
This entry was posted in accountability, demagogic, democracy, ethics, management, public interest, public opinion and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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