Trump & The Fog of Media

The enemy of the media is my president, or is it my friend? Or maybe my reality show host? Or as with the fog of war, does the fog of media get, well, fogged-in? It’s a fog that blurs sight of critical journalism, and all we see is partisan politics. Legendary military analyst Carl von Clausewitz warned that during war, “A sensitive and discriminating judgement is called for; a skilled intelligence to scent out the truth.” That “judgement” is absent in the media’s daily blasting of the White House.

The fog of war means people get hurt. So does the fog of media. it’s the unintended consequence of the 24-hour news cycle assault on the President. No one will argue that Trump is above scrutiny or even attack. He is a leader who triggers combative reactions, so it is an ongoing battle lasting two years and counting. I’m afraid these relentless attacks on the Trump presidency, will do more damage than just bringing down a flawed man. If it is not slowed to a measured, intel-driven attack, the campaign will cleave the American soul. 

Media sniping has long been an American pastime. During World War 2 (1941-45), General Patton was savaged as the press organized a coup to suppress his voice, and it succeeded. Patton, like Trump, was unbridled, verbose and an easy target. But in the end the accusations, and later his demotions delayed the war’s end and cost American lives. In the 1960s and ‘70s the media, including NBC and The Washington Post in cahoots with the Democratic Party, targeted Richard Nixon— add in White House leaks—which fueled his Gestapo response and inevitable downfall. The clash of media and White house paralyzed the country, and has left us with political post traumatic stress syndrome. When Nixon lost his campaign in 1962 and blurted to an audience, “you won't have Nixon to kick around anymore” he was lashing out at the press.

In the 1980s, the media depicted Ronald Reagan, the B-actor, as a “doddering” idiot, a heartless racist, a hollow showman, tending to the rich and leaving African Americans to die with his “trickle-down” economics. He was called a warmonger, controlled by his puppet-masters including an astrologer introduced by his wife, Nancy. He, “had more horses than books.” He was “sentimental, hypocritical, cheap” and borderline senile. But teflon Reagan, a performer with good timing, great presence, sense of humor, well-delivered lines, and a streak of artful pragmatism, was able to preserve his legacy. 

President George W. Bush was not as creative as Reagan when in 2005 the media tore him to shreds for his response to Hurricane Katrina. Bush was maligned as ill-suited to his role and was portrayed as a Simeon, the boy king, who morphed into a warmongering cowboy. Then he was a hapless Gilligan. Americans began to cringe when he took the stage, and the world of entertainment cast him as the living symbol of ignorance. He absorbed full blame for the Iraq War, (although he acted with the support of Congress, worldwide intelligence agencies and allies), conventional wisdom still portrays him as a ventriloquist’s dummy seated on the lap of Dick Cheney.

Then there is Donald Trump, “the Donald,” a not-so-conservative reality TV star, with the scowl of Patton and the billions (maybe) of Bush. He is as loose-lipped as Patton, and as temperamental as Nixon, a showman, not quite in the same league as Reagan, but definitely no puppet, And for the first time in history the media has met its match. There is no way to savage Donald Trump, because he likes war, he “likes the heat.” And he is armed with a Twitter account, with tweets ablazing. He is beholden to no one but his own towering success. He can fight dirty, bypass the media, and connect directly with his audience. In the end, the media’s aggressive elitism is nullified. In other words, they’re fired! 

As the media loses perspective and steps over the line, we are witness to more vicious warfare. What we have learned as of 2018 is that Americans driven by social media proved they’re no longer content to press their noses against the old world’s TV’s glass menagerie filled with the darlings of left-leaning media. Instead when they feel ignored or insulted they change the channel to alternative outlets or they flee to that massive Twitter account, where they find a populist character without insider pedigree, someone they can relate to. They are even willing to cover their eyes when the fighting gets downright ugly.

Sadly, that part of the American population, Nixon’s “silent majority,” needed Trump too. They were the still forgotten men and women who feel that they had been left behind and had lost their basic dignity and their voice. You don’t need a college degree to understand hurt. Bashing the common man by the media turns into invective that devalues and dismisses. If the hurts of the forgotten Americans are not heeded, they will continue to lash out and grasp at those willing to fight back. Their neglect will only fuel more anger. And a vicious cycle can only spiral out of control. 

In the end, the fog of media will cloud the ability, as Clausewitz warns, to find, “a sensitive and discriminating judgement” and boundaries between fair criticism and all-out war. 

And no democracy can survive a perpetual digital war.

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