I answer my landline, which provides consistently higher quality service than my friend’s fancy phones. Thus, I deal with a couple annoyance calls a day – from the deep-voiced dude allegedly representing law enforcement personnel, but whose organization is highlighted by “fraud” with any quick internet search, to the false-friendly woman who acts as if we’re old pals magically reconnecting after an unspecified separation. I’m not always polite. As the political season shortens, I am getting more calls from “surveys,” with promises that the caller is not trying to sell me anything. That’s true. What they’re trying to do is mine information from me that they can sell to others or pass on to whomever is footing their bill – or maybe both.
My reply has become standardized: “Knowledge is power; information, valuable. Why should I empower you and make you richer?” Which gets us to the president’s continued attacks on the press. Donald Trump is the most prolific liar in our nation’s political history. Who would have ever nightmared that Nixon could fall to second place. (The Younger Bush ranks third for lying us into interminable wars in the Mideast, where our brave soldiers are being sacrificed to military-industrial complex profitability.) Day after day, Trump spreads misinformation (and his trademark hatred) at a mind-boggling rate.
On Aug. 3, The New Yorker’s Susan B. Glasser reported on a story in the previous day’s Washington Post, “revealing a recent spike in the number of ‘false and misleading claims’” made by President Trump. In his first year as President, Trump made 2,140 false claims, according to the Post. In just the last six months, he has nearly doubled that total to 4,229. In June and July, he averaged sixteen false claims a day. On July 5th, the Post found what appears to be Trump’s most untruthful day yet: seventy-six per cent of the ninety-eight factual assertions he made in a campaign-style rally in Great Falls, Montana, were ‘false, misleading or unsupported by evidence.’”
Understandably, such a liar resents anyone who points out easily-available refutations of his Big Lie authoritarianism. And, reporting those actual facts is the job of the free press – whose importance was recognized by our founders by its inclusion in the very First Amendment. This view was echoed recently by the Senate when it unanimously passed a resolution declaring:
“Resolved, that the Senate affirms that the press is not the enemy of the people; reaffirms the vital and indispensable role that the free press serves to inform the electorate, uncover the truth, act as a check on the inherent power of the government, further national discourse and debate, and otherwise advance the most basic and cherished democratic norms and freedoms of the United States; and condemns the attacks on the institution of the free press and views efforts to systematically undermine the credibility of the press as an attack on the democratic institutions of the United States….”
Senators felt compelled to take this stand to counter the president’s constant vilification of The Fourth Estate at his putsch parties – where the most heavily guarded man in the country encourages supporters to harass media members.
Last week, 350 news outlets editorialized against press bashing. This led the Twitterer-in-Chief to denounce them as “THE OPPOSITION PARTY.” (Tweeter-in Chief? Twit-in-Chief?) Let’s hope so. The honest press is opposed to lying, and Trump’s the biggest liar of the lot. But, the press is much too easy on him. Every Trump news story should include parenthetical corrections following each of his falsehoods – maybe in ALL CAPS.
To have the Liar-in-Chief call honest reporting “fake news” is as ridiculous as a bunch of scared, reactionary, anti-change, status-quo-conscious Tories misrepresenting themselves as a Tea Party. Lie loud enough and long enough and someone will believe you – especially if you can keep the truth from escaping. The long list of long-running abuse scandal cover-ups by supposedly respectable organizations demonstrates the power in controlling information.
Colleges protect sports enterprises; the Pope offers thoughts and prayers to thousands of abuse victims; Reuters journalists face long prison sentences for reporting the truth in Myanmar; the head of the Miss America organization tells the current Miss America whistleblower that her comments are “hurting the organization.” Money, money, power and money. Our RICO crime laws could take care of a lot of information-suppressing criminals who profit by their organized enterprises. And, in keeping with the authoritarian playbook, the president banned the former head of the CIA from intelligence briefings. Information is power.
Or could be if it were used. As far as we can tell, Trump gets his intelligence briefings from his idol Vlad the Bad – to whom he is in the process of delivering the Turks as allies – and whose own dealing with unfavorable news coverage often proves deadly for the journalists. Putin is trying to re-win The Cold War, which is memorable to those of us of a certain age for the assertion that our Russian student counterparts were being taught that every invention of the modern age had been invented by a Russian. The authorities controlled the “facts.” That itself limits the discourse.
Knowledge is power; information is valuable. Egomaniacal cowards cannot be trusted to set the terms for the debate.
(Gary Edmondson is Stephens County Democratic Party Chair.)