Sometimes, it’s all about which word we use.
Remember the confusion when Kentuckians were asked their opinions about Obamacare and Kynect? In that 2014 poll, 57 percent of Kentuckians viewed Obamacare unfavorably, while only 22 percent had an unfavorable outlook about Kynect. Never mind that Obamacare and Kynect are one and the same. Never mind that Kentucky has benefited more than most states from the ACA. Kynect felt good; Obamacare felt bad.
Jimmy Kimmel got a lot of laughs out of this ACA-Obamacare confusion. He sent cameras out to ask citizens which they preferred: Obamacare or the ACA. The answers revealed two things: 1) there’s a lot of puzzlement in the land — a nice way of saying there are too many poorly informed citizens out there; and 2) what one thinks about Obama makes a big difference in what one thinks about Obamacare. Take this remark from Kimmel’s show earlier this year: “I'm not the biggest fan of Obama so I don't support him in the Obama things that he's got going on. I'm actually really excited for President Elect Donald Trump." That interviewee, no surprise, preferred the ACA over Obamacare. (Insert facepalm here.)
Republicans branded the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as “Obamacare” because they knew that doing so would tie the legislation to a president unpopular in their red rural districts. They did the same thing in 1993 and 1994 when the Clinton administration sought to universalize health insurance. Back then, Republicans demonized the Health Security Act and labeled it “Hillarycare" — and it went down the tubes, along with the first lady’s standing in the polls.
It really is about branding — and Donald Trump knows that all too well. That’s why he tweets about “the failing New York Times” and “the crooked media” and “fake news.” With every disparaging tweet, he’s inoculating his base against information that reflects poorly on him. He wants them so well vaccinated that he could quite literally stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone, have it reported on CNN or MSNBC or in the NYT or the Washington Post, and few of his voters would believe it — precisely because they don’t believe the media. As the Russia affair daily drips out, Trumpists everywhere are lining up to kill the messenger: “I am personally offended by the American news media. I think it is destructive and disgusting. It is a danger to the country right now.” That from former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Since it’s about branding and since Trump’s and his sycophants’ war on our liberties will not abate as long as Trump sits in the Oval Office autographing GOP legislation, we need to use every peaceful means we have to resist. One thing we can do right away is to stop using the word “media.”
It’s too easy to hate the media. It’s too easy to mistrust the media. It’s too easy to criticize the media. It’s too easy to oppose the media. It’s much harder to hate, to mistrust, to criticize, and to oppose the free press. Asking “Do you support a free press?” will elicit a much different response than asking “Do you support the media?” Asking Donald Trump why he hates the free press is a tougher question for him to answer than inquiring about why he hates the media.
So media, the word, must go — replaced by free press. Americans who believe in journalism, Americans who believe in the First Amendment, Americans who believe that the fourth estate is crucial to our democracy, and Americans who wish to guard against the excesses of the Trump administration, need to delete the word “media” from their vocabulary and in its place consistently use the nomenclature free press.
President Trump won’t stop tweeting that the media is “failing” and “crooked” and “fake news.” We, therefore, must not stop talking about the indispensable role a free press plays in the lives of a free people living in a democracy that is currently under great stress.
—Rodney Wilson teaches political science at a community college in Missouri.