Our free press is one of America’s greatest strengths. This is one of the “campaigns” of Mr. Trump that I find most disgraceful; his attacks on the media. He assaults the very best of our media and venerates all of the worst of it. He calls the media that tries to honestly report the events of the day “fake news” and he relies on all of the media which the rest of think of as “fake news”. Since our print media is already struggling to stay alive in these days of the internet, I am worried that Donald’s constant barrage of insults against the free press will leave us with only news that leans to the right, and made-up news.
Much of our pride in America is tied up in our free speech. We feel a bit superior to a nation like Russia or China with only state-sponsored news. Even so, we have lost some of our freedom because money is now speech and we don’t have enough money to buy as much “speech” as some Americans are able to these days. Even worse, now we have a “strong man” in charge who is trying to kill off sources of free speech. The best sources of news refuse to print unearned praise of the current occupant of the White House, so 45 is trying to suppress all our nation’s leading news sources.
Other powerful and wealthy men like the Koch brothers are trying to subvert media sources from within by buying them and then forcing them to print news stories they like or even ones they invent. I am very worried that the Conservative push to control America is going to take away the freedom of speech we have always enjoyed in our media.
History has taught us one way dictators destroy the free press is to make us begin to question which stories are factual and which stories are not. There used to be a fairly clear divide between commentary and news. Those lines are now being blurred. Before the 2016 election we all saw stories on Facebook that seemed extremely biased and some which struck us as too ridiculous to even bother to read. There were stories we had to hide so we wouldn’t ever have to see them again. Perhaps we attributed these stories to devotees of Fox News and never guessed that powerful people were deliberately planting “fake news”, or propaganda, on Facebook. But there were plenty of people on Facebook who would bury you in troll-speak if you dared express an opinion, in a comment, opposite to the “fake news”
I don’t like the Conservative agenda of today’s Republican Party and I make no secret of this. I do not believe that anything these folks want will be good for America, except perhaps training programs for workers and infrastructure investments (not pipelines). But Conservatives have been very effective at bamboozling, lying to, propagandizing, and convincing many Americas to believe that they have good ideas and that the Democrats don’t. If we are not careful the right – the GOP – will not just control the government and 30+ state governments, they might just become the only political power in America. What will we hear on our media then?
Well, I know where you can get a foretaste. Recently John Oliver outed the business plans of the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, a Conservative media group that owns local TV news stations in 81 local markets and that is trying to double the number of stations under its influence through a merger. In my mid-size city Sinclair bought three TV local news programs on different networks and two of those stations are the most popular stations for local news, the news broadcasts people listen to every day and every night. Syracuse, NY was cited by name by John Oliver on this national network (HBO) and this is a rare thing indeed unless the news is about snowstorms.
So far the most noticeable feature of the “takeover” is that these stations are obligated to air commentary a number of times each week by a Trump supporter named Boris Epshteyn, “Bottom Line with Boris”. Katy Waldman at Slate.com in her article with the title “News. Traffic. Weather. Trump” begins her article like this: “the face of Boris Epshteyn, chief political analyst for the behemoth Sinclair Broadcast Group, is glowing like an oversized egg about to hatch the world’s most affable chicken. ‘Let’s take a look at the White House press briefing,” he suggests genially, the corners of his mouth lifting. ‘What it is, what it represents, and how it serves the American people.”
Here’s a little sample of Boris in action.
I’m unsure that there is any path right now that would put news in Syracuse back with an owner who wants to offer segments that fairly present both sides of an issue or that take a brave stand when called for. But the word about Sinclair Broadcasting Group invading my local news is a depressing development and another sad step away from free speech. When will our politics, which has moved so far to the right, make a move back towards the center or to the left? That is difficult to predict. It could take many years to change US policy now that we have let Conservatives take over our politics, and have allowed them to be so invasive in our media dialogue and government. Will we lose our free speech rights? Will we become afraid to speak out if we disagree with laws or approaches to future crises that are sure to arise? Government-approved media could happen here. There is, as they say, “a slippery slope.”