When Americans lost faith in the news

By | January 31, 2023

Louis Menand writes:

When the Washington Post unveiled the slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” on February 17, 2017, people in the news business made fun of it. “Sounds like the next Batman movie,” the New York Times’ executive editor, Dean Baquet, said. But it was already clear, less than a month into the Trump Administration, that destroying the credibility of the mainstream press was a White House priority, and that this would include an unabashed, and almost gleeful, policy of lying and denying. The Post kept track of the lies. The paper calculated that by the end of his term the President had lied 30,573 times.

Almost as soon as Donald Trump took office, he started calling the news media “the enemy of the American people.” For a time, the White House barred certain news organizations, including the Times, CNN, Politico, and the Los Angeles Times, from briefings, and suspended the credentials of a CNN correspondent, Jim Acosta, who was regarded as combative by the President. “Fake news” became a standard White House response—frequently the only White House response—to stories that did not make the President look good. There were many such stories.

Suspicion is, for obvious reasons, built into the relationship between the press and government officials, but, normally, both parties have felt an interest in maintaining at least the appearance of cordiality. Reporters need access so that they can write their stories, and politicians would like those stories to be friendly. Reporters also want to come across as fair and impartial, and officials want to seem coöperative and transparent. Each party is willing to accept a degree of hypocrisy on the part of the other.

With Trump, all that changed. Trump is rude. Cordiality is not a feature of his brand. And there is no coöperation in the Trump world, because everything is an agon. Trump waged war on the press, and he won, or nearly won. He persuaded millions of Americans not to believe anything they saw or heard in the non-Trumpified media, including, ultimately, the results of the 2020 Presidential election. [Continue reading…]

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