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MCCARTHY: Trump administration’s treatment of press is unacceptable

Photo+by+Amy+Elliot-Miesel
Photo by Amy Elliot-Miesel

Photo by Amy Elliot-Miesel

Photo by Amy Elliot-Miesel

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The most shocking thing about White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s lie regarding the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd was how unnecessary it felt. Almost nobody cares about inauguration attendance numbers. What’s unsurprising, however, is how this administration is consistently willing to promote falsehoods and misinformation out of nothing else but petty vanity.

It is healthy to be skeptical, but denying easily verifiable information because it does not conform to your self-absorbed conception of reality is madness. In cases like this, there is only one version of reality and it is not subject to partisan debate. Sure, there are limitless perspectives and interpretations of what the truth could mean, but those opinions must be pliant to actual data.

We are looking at the beginnings of a vicious war between the White House and media organizations. In an interview with The New York Times, Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon said, “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.” In a sense, he’s right. Republicans have near complete control of the federal government, there is little Democrats can do to function as an effective opposition party. The biggest obstacle to Trump’s agenda is public backlash, which is often stirred by the media.

This is why Trump tweets that The New York Times and CNN are “FAKE NEWS,” so he can discredit his only real opposition in the next four years. So far, this strategy seems to have worked. A Gallup poll from September of last year found that only 32 percent of Americans have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the media, the lowest level since Gallup began conducting the poll. Trump is essentially inoculating himself from criticism by frequently exposing himself to low doses of scandal, like a vaccine.

When former senior adviser David Axelrod and the Obama Administration excluded Fox News from a round of interviews in 2009, the networks united, refusing to attend the interview without Fox. Now, more than ever, it is important for media organizations to provide a unified front against new assaults on objective truth. Instead of allowing lies to go unchallenged and unchecked, the media must push back.

Defending Spicer’s comments about the inauguration crowds, Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway told Meet the Press’ Chuck Todd that Spicer was merely providing “alternative facts.” Ignoring the terrifyingly Orwellian implications of the phrase, “alternative fact” is just a thinly veiled euphemism for a lie.

This would not have been a story if Trump, Spicer and Conway had not continued to boldly lie about it. One question this meltdown raises: What happens when the stakes are higher? After all, at absolutely zero point in its history has the United States government been a paragon of honesty or transparency. The president is also the communicator-in-chief, and when he and his staff are knowingly dishonest, it causes lasting damage to the country. The scars of Richard Nixon’s “alternative truths” are still apparent.

In his inaugural address, Trump said he wanted to be a president for all Americans. When he chooses to promote an alternative reality, or suggests that there is no objective truth, he is further dividing the country into competing realities colored by partisan preference.

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