News response: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/27/us/politics/trump-cnn-first-amendment.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FFirst%20Amendment%20(US%20Constitution)&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection
Freedom of speech and freedom of press typically go hand in hand, but for Trump they often clash. Case in point, Trump recently called CNN out via Twitter (not for the first time, of course). On November 25 he Tweeted: “@FoxNews is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!” To which CNN replied: “It’s not CNN’s job to represent the U.S to the world. That’s yours. Our job is to report the news. #FactsFirst.” The part of me that lives for Internet drama loves this exchange and the simplicity of CNN’s takedown. The part of me that is a citizen in this country, though, hates this, and the part of me that would like to work in journalism is horrified by this. The way that Trump creates a hierarchy of media outlets and blatantly denounces them is disturbing in itself— not only is it unpresidential, but shouldn’t a president have more important things on his plate than to take to Twitter to complain about a website he dislikes? Yet even more upsetting is the way that his doing so normalizes a behavior that is dangerously close to infringing on First Amendment rights. His censuring of CNN (among other sources— he recently attacked NBC as well following their firing of Matt Lauer and called on them to “expire the contract” of others) is precariously close to censorship.
The situation is further complicated by the proposed AT&T and Time Warner merger. The merger was announced last year, but earlier this month multiple news sources reported that the Justice Department wants AT&T to defund CNN before allowing it to acquire Time Warner. While the Trump administration may claim to be against this merger for anti-trust reasons (which I think would be a valid rationale, and tend to agree with), Trump’s constant barrage of “CNN is fake news” Tweets strongly suggests an ulterior motive in this specific request. A president who uses his free speech to impede free press is unpresidential (and borderline unconstitutional), but imposing his personal interests on this merger (i.e. abusing his position as president to censor speech he does not like) is definitively illegal. CNN has taken up the hashtag #factsfirst to combat Trump’s #fakenews, which seems like an effective counter, except for countering Trump’s lies with facts is so futile. I’m reminded of Hitler’s concept of “the big lie.” The idea was that if someone tells a lie large enough, no one dares to refute it. In our current case, we do dare to refute Trump’s lie. But little truths are ineffectual against a big lie, particularly when its chief propagator is president. This is not to say that we should stop reporting the truth and pointing out when our president has lied, but I think a true sea change would call for more. In Hitler’s case, he (said he) believed the Jewish people had created the big lie, but of course we know that he was the one who created the false narrative. Not to draw a direct parallel between the two, but I think there is a theoretical similarity between them— Trump is under the same delusion about being the only truth teller in a sea of fake news, when the opposite is so evidently the reality. I think a big reason he is able to so easily live this lie is because he only listens to sources that agree with him. CNN (ironic) wrote a piece pointing out that while Trump has 43.6 million followers on Twitter, he only follows 45. Those few dozen include his family and advisors (pretty much the same group of people), conservative news sources such as Fox Nation, and amazingly, Trump Golf. CNN recreates his Twitter newsfeed, and the result shows that as Trump scrolls through his timeline, he is able to constantly confirm his narrative. We all do this to some degree, but then we all make more of an effort not to, and none of the rest of us are the president. In order to infiltrate Trump’s big lie, we need to infiltrate his newsfeed, in the literal and figurative sense. We need to tell stories in ways that tell the truth without demonizing the liars, and make our opponents feel heard while making them listen. It’s a difficult task; maybe Catheter Cowboy is a start.