This is what the press is for

By Caitlin Kelly

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Speaking truth to power.

That’s it, really.

Sure, some journalists write puffy stories about luxury hotels and mascara and shiny new tech toys.

But the journalism a democracy relies on is one with consistent, ready access to its leader(s), holding them and their government to account.

If you don’t grasp this essential fact, you’re in for a very  long and ugly fight.

In his very first press briefing, Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer managed to stun the entire White House press corps with a toxic mix of hostility, aggression and threats.

This isn’t how a briefing is supposed to go. Certainly not from the very start.

Oh, and fleeing the room without taking a single question.

Not a great start to a new administration.

This is how it works:

Journalists are hired to find out what the hell is actually going on in the halls of power.

They cultivate sources.

They dig.

They read long, tedious boring documents, where the meat of the matter may be buried 537 pages in.

They do not give up easily.

We do not give up easily.

A President who whines about every perceived slight to his fragile ego, and an attack dog press secretary , are not what Americans need or deserve.

Millions of Americans did not vote for Donald Trump, and even those who did need and deserve to know what he is doing — beyond his relentless tweets.

And the rest of the world is also watching and listening, as confused and concerned as many Americans are by the oldest President ever elected, a proven liar, cheat and misogynist — and a man who has never served a minute in office before.

The Presidency carries tremendous power, and the trappings of office are indeed impressive and daunting: a residence in the White House, access to nuclear codes, travel in Air Force One and Marine One, rafts of attendants snapping salutes.

But he works for us.

He works for the American people.

If the press, whose role it is to represent every voter unable to ask tough questions directly, are body-slammed from the very start, look forward to the most persistent, aggressive and unrelenting scrutiny of this administration you can begin to imagine.

27 thoughts on “This is what the press is for

  1. He should understand he works for the American people. I don’t believe President DT has even the slightest grasp on reality. Many people around the world see a Facist Regime rising. There are so many similarities to Adolphus Hitler in DT. I fully believe his agenda will suit his own Corporate ideals. Becoming POTUS was not FOR the American People, rather for his own financial gain. How many shares does he have in fossil fuel?

    He kept his promise in draining the swamp. He drained the water out, pulled the swamp monsters out, and placed them in positions of power where they can do even more harm to not only the United States of America, but the World.

  2. I saw parts of the briefing and was floored. Then I thought, maybe this is part of a broader plan to discredit the media and diminish their credibility. If they uncover anything or shine a light on an issue, who’s going to believe them? It also makes me wonder why some people (I must admit I’m sometimes like that too), just surround themselves with “news” that they believe or find comforting.

    1. Exactly his tactic. The people who hate and mistrust the media will side with Trump — because we’re so “mean” to him (as if this were a schoolyard.) It’s a great bully pulpit from which to do it. But Trump has already dissed all the intelligence agencies and the press. They’ll make a terrific combo. 🙂

  3. Wow–the things you miss when you work all weekend away from the t.v. and internet. Your post reminds me of the things my fave podcaster, Dan Carlin, says–in that the relationship between journalism and the government isn’t meant to be buddy buddy. The journalists are supposed to be hard hitting and ask the questions, to hold leaders accountable. I do get annoyed with the lapdog press that’s come about the past 20 years (or more, probably), and find entities like Wikileaks useful because so much that’s come down the pipeline to the average voter is diluted crap.

    We need an accountable government and journalists to keep them accountable. That’s why I’ve always had respect for journalism, and the days of Murrow and Cronkite. They might’ve made mistakes here or there, but held themselves accountable and not pursued things in the interest of getting info out first. If journalists were more careful and their overlords not so concerned with just getting there first, there’d be much better “product” coming down the line–more informative, not watered down, and with less rumor attached. For those journalists still fighting the fight to do their jobs right, hugs.

    1. It’s going to be interesting. I can’t remember any President being belligerent and hostile to the press from Day ONE. Now his lackey Conway is blathering on about “alternative facts.” It’s insanity.

  4. Dear Caitlin,

    You are right on point about the “toxic mix of hostility, aggression and threats.” This is the mindset of tyrants.

    When Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press asked Kellyanne Conway why the President’s press secretary, Sean Spicer’s “utter[ed] a probable falsehood” about the size of the crowd at the Inauguration she said Spicer had been presenting “alternative facts.” Todd replied: “Alternative facts are not facts they are falsehoods.” The whole interview is so full of spin (and hostility, aggression, and threats) it’s frightening.

    The following article by Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of history and Italian studies at NYU, is chilling and worth reading about what the press is coming up against in fulfilling the task of bearing witness and asking questions: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/01/donald-trumps-authoritarian-politics-of-memory/514004/

    The biggest problem now is to gain the trust of the half of the country that has been told that the press is full of lies and that there is such a thing as “alternative facts.” (And that Trump has all the best facts!)

    It’s going to be so very difficult.
    Best to you,

    Pam

    1. The very phrase “alternative facts” sends me rushing back to read Huxley’s “1984” — (written in 1949, right after WWII) — and how quickly words are re-purposed for political means.

      Thanks for sharing that link.

      And who knows what is going to happen? For me, that’s a lot of the stress I feel right now. We have no idea.

      1. It would be a good idea to put together a reading list for the times. I keep thinking anything by Kafka has the same nightmarish, dislocated sense of reality. Maybe The Castle? Kafka died before he finished it and the book ends mid-sentence. We’re in mid-sentence.

  5. The defiance and determination that shines through in this post and in the millions who turned out to protest at the weekend is very heartening. I keep having to remind myself that resignation will get me – us – nowhere.

    1. Thanks KK!

      I only hope — fervently — that the millions of men and women who marched this weekend will keep their action and resistance alive day to day. That’s the next challenge.

    1. Thanks! I was so nervous and my eyes practically melted after looking at every single WordPress theme! I give Cadence (smalldogsyndrome blog) for urging to my freshen and update. I was a bit stunned to learn that my former theme had been (ahem) discontinued in 2013…:-)

  6. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Sunday links | A Bit More Detail

  7. I think we need to stand with and support the press right now. I do think we have created problems for ourselves, and we need to be more reflective about our choices. (By “we,” I mean non-journalists.) We have sought out information that told us what we wanted to hear or which appealed to our emotions, and we need to reprioritize information that we can rely on to be accurate. We have wanted information for free, and we need to understand high-quality information is not free. People work hard to get it for us.

    1. Thanks for the vote of confidence…and it means a lot that you care enough to make those distinctions.

      Yes, online news has inured too many readers to thinking it’s all “free” when everyone producing smart work needs to pay their bills as well.

  8. steve

    as probably the only Conservative that reads and posts to your blog I must say I wholeheartedly agree with you and your point about a need for a strong press. I just wish all you Progressives would have been just as forthcoming and exuberant about your role over the past 8 years as well which certainly has NOT been the case. iI seems to me that the “press” is only willing to do its job when its a Republican administration . Where were they when the last POTUS ran rough shod over the Constitution like no one else in American history? By all means do your job and if the Trump Administration steps over the line let us know but stop with the slander pieces and fake news garbage. Thats why the right no longer trusts you, you have proven time and time again you are more interested in advancing your agenda than reporting the truth. Thats how i see it so let the stoning begin

    1. No stones from me, Steve. As always, glad to have you reading and commenting.

      The challenge now is much greater than partisan feeling — many Trump supporters refuse to listen to any media outlets beyond Fox or right-wing commentators. The MSM has plenty of faults — and I’ve called them out on it here, as well as elsewhere. We’re all in wait-and-see world now.

      1. steve

        Yep, I fear that may be the case. Ive never been a Trump fan and to be quite honest he scares the hell out of me. As I’ve said above I think there is such a mistrust of the media in this country and for good reason that now that the pendulum has swung the other way i think those on the right will give him a pass just like those on the left gave Obama when he stepped over the line. That is precisely why I am a Constitutionalist. i believe that document holds the key s to the best and most sensible societal restraints that ever existed. Everytime we step out beyond we get in trouble from BOTH sides. It is most important we all see ourselves as Americans first and realize that we are not always going to agree on every issue but this outright hatred of those that disagree with us is killing our nation. We have a lot of real problems in our nation and hopefully trump will take a more pragmatic approach to solving some of them but if he steps out off the ranch we need to hold him accountable. We have a rulebook to follow and NOBODY in power should ever be allowed to circumvent our rights. President Obama went way too far. marriage, spending, healthcare, abortion, foreign treaties, releasing dangerous felons, open borders, dreamers just to name a few. There are no Constitutional provisions for any of these things and thus should be decided by the States not to mention the EPA, HUD, Dept of Education and so on. What a mess! Washington isn’t the solution, it is the problem. Ronald Reagan and he was right. More so now than ever

      2. Not that you feel passionate…:-)

        You know I will disagree with you about some of Obama’s decision-making. I will observe, as someone who grew up in Canada, that one of the most interesting aspects of American life is how tightly Americans hew to and quote from — in 2017 — the Constitution. I wonder if any other nation does this, or as often. It seems a very American habit and one I need to better understand.

  9. I am a journalist for a small local newspaper. We have about 45,000 readers weekly. I appreciate you highlighting the need for voracious journalism, especially in regards to digesting erroneous, sucky documents and translating their jargon into common English. Even in my humble position, reporting local news, my most important task is reading the very unromantic documents (often purposefully lengthy and difficult to fircking understand) and get the meat of the matter; how will the new legislation, the new zoning laws, the new resolution, affect my readers? It’s a job that serves as a bedrock to democracy, even in a local newspaper. Peace, my friends. Keep reporting.

    1. Thanks for that work! Readers have no idea how much stuff we need to pre-digest to make sense of things — without which corruption, waste and nepotism can run rampant.

      I was in a bar last night, chatting with someone, and a young man overheard me saying I’m a journalist — and he thanked me. That’s never happened before. I think some people are newly aware that we DO perform essential work.

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