I think I've managed to stay out of the fray, with all that our president-to-be has done that's worthy of comment these past few weeks. I've refrained from talking about his thin-skinned tweets about parodies every president has had to suffer through from Saturday Night Live and other comedians. Or his response to a heartfelt plea from Meryl Streep. Or his inaccurate comments about the state of the Atlanta district that Rep. John Lewis represents. Or so much more that has dismayed and disgusted me and many of us.
I had been planning to write about the media and their attempts to cover the transition. I find it interesting and reassuring that some of the media the president-to-be has targeted as "failing" actually have been benefiting from his barbs. The New York Times, for example, has seen a net gain of more than a hundred thousand subscribers since the election, and its online readership has gone up by a third. The Washington Post has seen big gains also, with online audience up by 50%. Other "mainstream" outlets like CNN and the major networks have enjoyed similar jumps. And in these times of shrinking newsrooms, The Washington Post recently announced plans to add several dozen reporters, some of whom will be doing investigative stories.
I attribute it to the public's desire to get news and analysis that they can trust to be accurate. The prez-to-be may reach millions via his Twitter feeds, but many millions more are looking to the media to get the real news behind those often-conflicting and sometimes confusing 140-character missives. The Chicago Tribune, recognizing the public's desire for real news, has been using the phrase "real, not fake news" in its outreach to gain more subscribers.
The prez-to-be's first news conference since his election was a shameful farce and an insult to intelligent viewers. Rather than give us any real insight into his plans, he spent much of the brief event berating the media and, erroneously, calling out CNN as a "fake news" outlet. CNN, like most major media, did not go into details of the compromising Russian "shower" sexcapade, other than reporting accurately that both the president and the prez-to-be had been briefed on the intelligence reports about it. The report had been circulating the Washington rumor mill for months and none of the media reported details until Buzzfeed, not CNN, finally broke the details publicly, even as they said it had not been verified.
I find it so ironic that a man who has so often embraced "fake news" to further his own goals and hurt others -- the person who for so long had been a leading proponent of the "birther" issue to try to delegitimize Obama, who wrongly connected then-opponent Ted Cruz' father with Lee Harvey Oswald, who told us with a straight face that he watched thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering after the 9/11 attacks, and on and on and on -- is now ranting when the possibly-fake (or possibly not fake) news is not in his favor.
And what a piece of showmanship he pulled off, having as a prop a table piled high with papers that he said proved he is removing himself from his business interests, to avoid potential conflicts of interest. At least one reporter who was there said the papers appeared to be blank.
How stupid does he think we are?
All of this points up the crucial role the media play in keeping us informed and keeping our politicians honest. We must do whatever we can to support them -- buy newspapers, tune in to the major network newscasts, support PBS and NPR, and donate what you can to news organizations like ProPublica and the organizations that will fight for journalists in court, if need be.
It's important that we remember that the Declaration of Independence includes a line that says... "Freedom of the press is an institutional necessity to achieve a properly representative government."
Those are words we, and our leaders, need to remember and respect.