President Donald Trump has been consistently undermining and discrediting the news media in the United States since the start of his campaign back in 2016. The president, who has famously popularized the term “fake news”, called the media “the enemy of the people”, and has constantly sought to discredit them on platforms such as Twitter, has created a hostile environment for media outlets and journalists that has reached unprecedented levels in the past few years. Journalists have also been constantly singled out, barreted, threatened, and even attacked at his rallies and over Twitter. Just look at what happened to Michelle Fields and Katy Tur.
With this environment of hostility and undermining of the news media by President Trump and his supporters, what does this mean for our American democracy? The Founding Fathers put the freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights for a reason. That reason being that many believed that free press and free speech were essential for the protection of our democracy. For it can be argued that the news media are the “watchdogs” of our government, and of our democracy. They are the ones that report to the people what is going on amongst legislation, national events, emergencies, and other events deeming national attention. But the climate that Donald Trump and his administration have created has been purposely working against countless national media sources telling people (his rural voter base) that they do not represent their interests. And his supporters are inclined to believe him.
They are inclined to believe him because long gone are the days of local newspapers and tv stations. In fact, a study conducted by UNC Chapel Hill shows that since 2004, about 1,800 local newspapers have closed their doors for good. Further, the study shows that rural counties with poorer and older populations are most likely to suffer due to lack of access to digital news and services creating what has been called “news deserts.” Once these local papers have shut down, the reporters either find new jobs or move to the larger cities where there are still newspaper journalism positions. Any news that is received by people located in these rural, poor areas is coming from the big cities and in their eyes does not represent their interests or concerns. They no longer know their journalists which used to live in the same town or county as them anymore. And if you combine this issue with Donald Trump’s rhetoric on the media, it is no wonder how people have come to view the news as their “enemy” or not representing their interests.
One of the characteristics of a populist discussed in the book What is Populism by Jan-Werner Muller is their claim to be a direct representative of the people and be their voice in a system and society that has ignored or forgotten them. We have seen Donald Trump support this characteristic by often times bypassing the news media and going straight to the people himself. One of his more famous ways of doing this is through his Twitter account where he is constantly expressing his direct opinion and thoughts to the public without the filtering of it through the news media. Further, throughout his campaign and presidency, he has constantly visited rural, poor, or industry deprived areas where most of his voter base is at and consistently spouts rhetoric of what is really happening in Washington and how they are not being represented in the big city. In Donald Trump taking on tactics like these, he is purposely bypassing the news media and giving people reason to not believe the big city, liberal media and how it is not representing them in daily reporting and rhetoric.
Overall, Donald Trump has constantly been undermining and discrediting the national news media outlets today. This is a problem facing the American people and our democracy today. This is a problem because media like The Washington Post, The New York Times, etc. have been doing an excellent job at covering and reporting on this administration and the threats being posed to American democracy by it. There is a lot of good journalism happening by national media sources, regardless of how difficult and dangerous Donald Trump has made it to be a journalist today. Donald Trump has constantly attacked the validity of national news media and its journalists whether it be online, in public, or at his rallies. Further, he has made it very clear how important it is to him to be able to serve as the direct representative of the people. He has also shown that he has constantly gone around the news media and undermined it to make sure this image holds. Does this mean that our American democracy is on the brink of collapse? No. But, it is important for us to recognize what Donald Trump and his supporters have been, and are, doing to the news media today. And how their actions are creating a political climate that is hostile to journalists and the overall health of our democracy.
Photo Credit: Samuel Reeder 3/31/2019