What the president says to a fallen soldier’s family is their business and theirs alone
A firm believer in the vital importance of the press, what we call the 4th Estate because of its pivotal role in monitoring and restraining the judicial, legislative and executive branches of our government, I’ve disagreed with President Trump’s war on the media.
Certainly we can and should be critical of the press because conflict sells; joining hands and singing “Kumbaya” doesn’t. Of course most of us are still taught — at least I hope we are — to not believe everything we read. But still, bad news sells.
And there certainly have been mistakes in reporting by even legitimate, mainstream media sources. Perhaps Rolling Stone Magazine’s 2012 ill-contrived reporting and editorial decisions covering the story of University of Virginia student “Jackie,” who alleged in the article that she was gang-raped at a campus fraternity house, is one of the most egregious examples given that Jackie’s story was disproved by media reports and a police investigation, and ultimately a Rolling Stone full retraction. But there are plenty of other examples of bad reporting.
And then there’s the alleged “liberal bias” of the media, more real than alleged as it turns out. Most polls find a majority of Americans believe in a liberal bias and they would be right. Even Ken Stern, former CEO of the famously liberal National Public Radio admits this, writing in the New York Post on Oct. 21 that, “Most reporters and editors are liberal — a Pew Research Center poll found that liberals outnumber conservatives in the media by some 5 to 1, and that comports with my own anecdotal experience at National Public Radio.”
Stern continues in his column, “None of this justifies the attacks from President Trump, which are terribly inappropriate coming from the head of government. At the same time, the media should acknowledge its own failings in reflecting only their part of America. You can’t cover America from the Acela corridor.” (Stern here is referring to the area on the East Coast between Washington, D.C. and Boston, which in a political sense refers to liberals in general.)
I, too, have second-guessed the president’s war on the media and his constant refrain of “fake news.” Like Stern, I believe the president’s position should encourage the health of the media, not attempt to lambast it into oblivion, regardless of its many faults, errors and biases.
The 4th Estate is too important to our freedom and liberty. We need it to restrict and limit government whose natural tendency is to grow and control. Writing from Paris in 1787 on the importance of a free press to keep government in check, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
So I have attributed Trump’s tirades against the press as little more than his desire to speak to his base, his administration’s own promotion of conflict to control the news cycle and, given his lack of political experience, his devaluing and misunderstanding the role of the 4th Estate a la Jefferson. I had hoped the battle between Trump and the press would subside to at least an uneasy truce as he grew into his role as president.
But the news media’s fascination with Trump’s alleged “insensitivity” during a phone call to a fallen soldier’s widow this past week put a big chink in that hope. In covering the phone call and under-appreciating how difficult and private these calls are and should be, the press is just helping the president prove his point — however flawed it may be — about fake news.
The bottom line here is this: The media love conflict with this president too much. They’re addicted to it and they’re allowing Trump to play them like a fiddle, promoting what really this time is, in fact, a fake news story.
The press was wrong — and played right into Trump’s hand — to give even five minutes of fame to the obviously politicized congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (D-Florida) who tweeted criticism of the president’s personal words during his call to a fallen soldier’s widow. Congresswoman Wilson and the media who endlessly covered this non-event are both dead wrong on this issue. The 4th Estate doesn’t need Trump’s anti-press tirades when they dig their own grave with clearly biased, fake news.
Condolence calls are difficult and fraught with emotion from the get-go. What the president says to a fallen soldier’s family is their business and theirs alone. Period. End of story.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.