AN INSIDE LOOK - Commentary and opinions on local politics and life in general in Southeastern Massachusetts! Featuring the writings of Bill Gouveia, newspaper columnist for the Sun Chronicle and local cable TV talk show host. Feel free to read, comment and enjoy!
Regardless of what you think of President Donald Trump and the accomplishments (or lack of same) of his administration during his short time in office, one thing is undeniably true and evident: Donald Trump has changed the way government and a free press relate with one another and with the American people.
Whether the changes are good or bad, constructive or destructive, helpful or hurtful to the country — there is no doubt whatsoever they have occurred. And they may still only be the beginning, with deeper and more fundamental changes possibly still ahead.
Yeah, I know — that sounds like a lot of scary talk for political purposes. But it’s not.
It is instead a clear truth Americans see for themselves every day. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of this situation is that as we are exposed to it more and more on a daily basis, we may be starting to accept it as normal. It is becoming the new standard for both journalism and government.
What am I talking about? It’s pretty simple.
The traditional role of the media in general has been challenged by government at the highest level. With considerable help from the media itself, the Trump administration has in just six months managed to weaken and limit the American ideal of a free and independent press in an unprecedented manner.
Forget the fact Trump has had exactly one — one — individual press conference during his first six months. That is unusual when you consider he has held at least two actual campaign rallies for the 2020 election in that same time. But it is only part of a bigger problem.
Trump’s White House has severely limited the daily press briefing, where much of the news about our government comes from. They have held fewer of them, refused to allow cameras at many of them, and limited access with threats to completely cut off various media and newspapers who offend them.
They have elevated the status of friendly websites and bloggers at the expense of actual journalistic entities. They have “punished” various media by diminishing their access and ability to ask questions.
And of course, the president in particular has branded everything he does not like or agree with as “Fake News.” There has been a clear strategy of winning the day by damaging the people who — in his mind — can harm him. He doesn’t bother with facts. He and his administration are always in attack mode.
This has caused a similar reaction in the media itself. Facing a government that seemingly has no shame and no need to back up what it says, television and newspapers are having to change their ways. In doing so, they are simultaneously strengthening and weakening their adherence to the fundamentals of reporting and opining. And frankly, I don’t think they have yet figured out exactly what to do.
While the government and the presidency certainly have rules that should be followed, this is different. This administration doesn’t play by rules — it makes new ones. And in the ongoing battle between the Trump administration and the American media, one thing is clear — the Trump administration is winning.
Donald Trump has used the media like no other candidate in our history. He sucked them into covering his every breath as a candidate, when frankly the attention was not deserved. He used them when he needed them, and cast them out when he did not.
When the press points out some of the crazy things he does or says (sorry folks, he does say and do crazy things), he claims he is being attacked. He finds those who will curry his favor and elevates their status. He can do this because, in his own words, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
The government is now effectively bypassing the American public by pretending they are only bypassing the press and the media. And they are doing it in such a way that a sizable segment of the public is praising them for it.
The pure genius of it would be quite admirable, if not for the fact it threatens the very principles upon which this country was built.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.