Alternative Facts, Fake News and the Enemy of the People
It’s not new that any presidential administration wants to control their media message as much as possible. This can be by requiring quote checks or by leaking information on upcoming initiatives to cherry-picked reporters who are most likely able to give the positive (or negative) angle they are hoping for.
Most presidents have been critical of the press, regardless of political party. During his presidency, Obama greatly lowered the standard for media access to his administration by routinely only using staff photographers for events, instead of inviting the media. This move prompted protests from media organizations who refused to use any staff photos until access was granted. But, criticism toward journalists reached new heights last week.
“The enemy of the people,” is how President Trump described the media while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Later that day another unprecedented move caused alarm. Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, is said to have barred The New York Times, Politico, CNN and Buzzfeed from attending an off-the-record press briefing while allowing Breitbart and other controversial outlets to attend.
In a world where the President is jeering “fake news” almost daily while every fact is questioned as alternative, the media’s integrity and influence has never been so under the microscope. As PR professionals, we must support our journalist colleagues, talk about the issues, and look for solutions. After all, our industry is based off our relationships with these reporters and the idea that we can help influence coverage about our clients to be balanced and factual.
But when the public begins to not trust the news they read, where does that leave PR? Perhaps the shift to owned media and corporate-owned publications, like Adobe’s CMO.com, will become more commonplace and accepted. The media won’t be going away - it’s the ultimate tool to influence mass audiences. It’s mainly just a question of who owns it and is trying to profit from it.
The outcry from Friday’s move was loud. The New York Times’ executive editor Dean Baquet put out an immediate statement: “Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties.” Two days later Spicer denied excluding any specific outlets. He explained the press pool rotates daily and he simply expanded a press pool briefing to include Breitbart, the Washington Times and other right-leaning websites. However, it seems odd multiple publications who aren’t involved in daily press pool briefings would loudly state they were barred since the daily, on-camera press briefing was abruptly canceled.
What exactly happened on Friday may vary per the person who tells it, but simply put, it was another situation of a presidential administration trying to control the media and their external message. While that effort to influence the media is normal, a fine line was crossed, alarming many.
Former President Bush defended the media on Monday in an honest and powerful interview, saying the free press is "indispensable to democracy. We need an independent media to hold people like me to account.” Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power."
It’s a relief to hear some positive words about journalists. I have to hope most people don’t view the media as “the enemy of our people.” I know a lot of honest, hardworking journalists and they certainly don’t make enough money to make up sources and lie to the public. They take unwavering pride in their work and fight for the good of the American people, just like President Trump is hoping to do.