November 13, 2019

The GOP War on the Fourth Estate

Guest Opinion
By Amy Kerr Hardin | Nov. 2, 2019

The liberal media, you say? Think again.
 
A far-right corporation, Sinclair Broadcasting Group, has been acquiring local television stations and using them as a platform to spread their radical political agenda, forcing affiliate anchors to read prepared statements masquerading as locally penned Op-Eds. The statements are often blatantly pro-Trump and always provide a slam on progressive principles.

Vox reports that Sinclair’s recent station acquisitions extend their reach to 3 out of 4 American households. Michigan’s television market is deep in their partisan grip. The map is disturbing. If you’re reading this, you’re exposed. The fake Op-Eds are so repugnant and embarrassing that many stations are airing them in the wee hours, when viewership is lowest.
 
Just a few days ago, Sinclair pushed its latest revolting piece of vitriol, forcing stations to tell their local audiences that the “liberal obsession” with less stringent border policies was leading to a surge in child sexual abuse, asking “How many American children have to suffer before Democrats see that illegal immigration is a national security issue?” This argument flies in the face of data that finds that immigrants, legal or not, are much less likely to commit crimes. But that fact doesn’t play well with the fear-mongering and racism perpetuated by the Oval Office.  

Here would be a good place to note that crossing the border illegally is only a misdemeanor. The child sex abuse claim is a straight-up dog whistle for the same intellectually vulnerable demographic that believes the wild and thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory that the Clintons were running a child sex ring out of a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor. As the saying goes, you can’t fix stupid. However, fostering it is always a bad idea. Yet they do.
 
Like Sinclair Broadcasting, our president plays on the mental deficiencies of his avid followers and takes perverse delight in doing so.
 
Justia Dockets and Filings reports that Donald Trump is currently embroiled in just south of 1,200 lawsuits, most filed against him for non-payment to contractors. Yet, he is now threatening to sue CNN.

It’s all bluster — just as it was when he declared that after he was elected, he planned to sue the dozens of women accusing him of sexual assault. This kind of thing is red meat for his base. The impetus behind this new presidential tantrum is the claim that CNN is falsely calling itself a news organization by disseminating “fake news.” The fake news mantra recently prompted the Florida Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists to trademark the term, and to send cease and desist letters to those who use it when referring to fact-based journalism.
 
As with all bullies, Trump talks big but provides little in terms of action. Instead, he taunts his crowd to do it for him.
 
Early on, Trump signaled his willingness to target journalists with violence by proxy. At a rally in December 2015, he drew an increasingly rabid crowd’s attention to a single journalist in the cordoned-off press pool — a group corralled behind hastily assembled bike racks. He singled-out NBC’s Katy Tur, belittling her and falsely accusing her of lying.

In her book about her experience on the 2016 campaign trail, “Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History,” Tur described the incident this way: “It’s clear what the crowd thinks: they love it. They turn all at once, a large animal, angry and unchained … Men are standing on chairs to get a look at me. They want to see me as they jeer.” She went on to say of Trump, “He’s relishing the moment and so are his supporters. They are spellbound.”

The Secret Service was so concerned for her safety, they escorted Tur to her car after the rally. She said she continues to look over her shoulder every day, but remains a political reporter for NBC.
 
Then there was the cold and calculated bone-saw murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which was emblematic of the attitude this administration has toward violence against reporters. Through his lack of action, Trump made it clear he couldn’t have cared less about the horrific incident. The president’s blithe behavior is a hallmark of fascism. His utter fecklessness was an intentional message to all journalists, here and abroad: If the ascending pack of oligarchs wish to “disappear” an inconvenient reporter, it will be swept under the rug, in plain sight.
 
Earlier this month, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal encouraged lawmakers to take up legislation he’s sponsoring that would make assaulting journalists a federal offense, thereby giving U.S. prosecutors a clear path for charging individuals with the higher crime. He affirmed this call in the wake of a shocking video shown at an American Priority conference held at Trump’s Doral Miami resort. The doctored video showed Trump slaughtering members of the press. Both American Priority and Trump’s spokesperson disavowed the video, but the damage was already done. Message sent and received.
 
All of this is occurring against the backdrop of news organizations struggling to navigate the environment of dwindling profit margins in an increasingly complicated world dynamic. Deep dives into investigatory journalism are expensive. And among those few media outlets still engaging in serious reporting, many have erected paywalls, thereby making important truths and facts the exclusive territory of the elite.

Unfortunately, far too many Americans indulge in the pre-masticated pablum of Fox News and never expose themselves to thoughtful long-form journalism. They live in the world of social media memes and false reassurances found in their information silos. It’s everyone’s loss.
 
Amy Kerr Hardin is a retired banker, regionally known artist, and public-policy wonk. You can hear and learn more about the state of Michigan politics on her podcast, www.MichiganPolicast.com.
 

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