Inauguration Day was unforgettable. Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, and protests across the nation instantly began. In Washington D.C., 230 people were mass arrested, many facing charges of felony rioting. The 230 people were protesters, medics, lawyers and journalists who were covering the protests.
While some of the journalists arrested were able to get charges dropped, it sent a message to those who will report on later protests. The mass arrest is being heavily criticized, especially after some of the journalists identified themselves as press and were still arrested.
The executive director of a free press organization, Suzanne Nossel, claims this is an intimidation tactic. Some fear this is the decline of the freedom of press. While this fear is valid, the bigger fear might ultimately be that the American public may have a clouded view of the truth as a result of that decline in freedom.
It is not a secret that Donald Trump is not fond of mainstream media, and this attitude has continued beyond his campaign and into his presidency. One of the most memorable of Trump’s anti-press campaign speeches called the media “thieves and crooks,” arguing that they have a vendetta against him and his campaign. As a method of voter suppression, he even stated that the polls just two weeks before the election showed him behind.
In a press conference before his inauguration, he was confrontational toward certain press organizations. President Trump claimed CNN is a fake news organization, criticized the BBC and called BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage” after publishing a report on Trump’s ties to Russia. Since then, he’s called Washington Post and New York Times fake news as well.
On his first day in office, Trump spoke freely about the press once again. This time, he called journalists “among the most dishonest” and insisted the media was falsely reporting his criticisms of the intelligence community and the size of the crowd at his inauguration ceremony.
Following this, Trump’s senior adviser Kellyanne Conway used the now-iconic phrase, “alternative facts,” to describe easily disprovable statements made by press secretary Sean Spicer and Trump himself.
Time and time again, Trump and his staff have made commentary about the press and the way information about him is being presented. However, the concept of “alternative facts” is concerning. The truth is being diluted by doubt of the media, constant denial of evidence and the threat of fewer freedoms for the press.
This behavior and attitude from Trump and his administration creates a problem for journalists, particularly for those in organizations that show Trump in a critical light. The constant anti-media dissent and talk of holding the press accountable makes the mainstream media look dishonest and not credible–ultimately, helping the spread of “alternative facts.”
However, this should be a warning sign for consumers of media. All media has bias, and it is up to the consumer to cross-reference all news and check facts presented to them. It is the consumer who needs to be conscious of the partiality in the narratives and angles that information is being presented from.
While there will always be some type of bias, “alternative” and false information is easily accessible, making it even more essential for news to be as accurate as possible. Fact is objective, and all facts need to be presented to the public.
It is also absolutely important for journalists to report on events happening in the United States and around the world, including protests that show Trump in an unfavorable view. Whether or not Trump likes what he sees and hears, it is a fact that protests are happening. Journalists should be allowed to be in attendance and to do their job, especially without fear of felony charges or being arrested.
Protecting the freedom of the press, while being aware of media bias and challenging accuracy, is the key to the American people staying informed.