White Supremacists were supposed to descend upon Washington, D.C. this past weekend for a demonstration commemorating the anniversary of last year’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.
One problem. Next to no one showed up.
There were more police and counter-protesters and – of course – media in attendance than the throngs of hate-mongers who were supposed to attend. Sprinkled among the peaceful counter-demonstrators were members of the not-so-peaceful Antifa movement, the quasi-anarchic group that believes overthrow of the government is the best solution for America’s ills.
In addition to white nationalists, white supremacists, fascists, neo-Nazi groups, the KKK, sundry members of the alt-right, and the federal government, Antifa also makes the press an object of their scorn. Which is something Antifa has in common with far-right extremist groups.
Both the far-right and far-left dislike the media. Except when they don’t. Meaning, whenever the need arises to draw press coverage to help amplify their respective messages. Which is usually most of the time.
Either way, the day was a win-win for purveyors of “fake news” since they got to cover people from both sides of the political spectrum whose disdain they’ve managed to earn in equal measure. The press was effectively left scratching their heads given that the only thing they ultimately had to cover was each other.
There is no question that the weekend’s demonstrations and counter-demonstrations could have devolved into something entirely different - and not something most of us would have liked to have seen on display. We didn’t need to witness splashy coverage of innocent bystanders being victimized by haters. Nor did we need to shift uncomfortably in our seats as the prevaricator-in-chief reprised last year’s observation that there was “blame on both sides” and that there were “some very fine people on both sides.”
Of course, we don’t need any of this. But these events are part of our new reality. The legitimate press has an obligation to keep the country informed and conscious of the good and ill that has befallen 21st century America. Regrettably, in today’s 24-hour news cycle, they’re not always as discerning as we might expect them to be. Oftentimes, there’s a blurred line between real news and orchestrated spectacle. Nowhere is this more evident than at a Donald Trump event.
Trump on the stump is no different than he was three years ago when he first began his run for office. His talk is tinged with racism, self-adulation, and venom. He grows frothy when launching yet another tirade against the mainstream media. The same media that was instrumental in helping Mr. Trump reinvent himself. We shouldn’t be surprised. Even Frankenstein’s monster eventually turned on his creator.
The backdrop of a presidential speech today is nearly identical to that on display during Trump’s campaign, composed of mostly white, hard-working Americans with a smattering of black and brown faces and an occasional Asian-American thrown in for good measure. There is no meaningful oratory, no laser-like focus on serious issues.
Trump talks are pep rallies bordering on the masturbatory. The only true digression from Trump’s fluffing is when he singles out members of the press, practically goading his followers to do them harm. Yet, as much as the press is intimidated by the crowd, as much as they vilify the president’s attempts to quash free speech, his distortions, deceit, and outright lies, they keep coming back for more.
But what if they threw a rally and nobody came?
What if the press covered the story – just the story – and refrained from airing the stage-managed made-for-television images Team Trump provides for the benefit of the media he claims to loathe and their audiences at home?
Coverage of Trump and his adoring followers is growing increasingly tiresome, redundant, misleading, and downright dangerous. Viewing them night-after-night is akin to watching reruns of “The Apprentice.” We pretty much know how each episode is going to end, so why bother tuning in?
Pretty pictures – nor ugly ones for that matter – do not an informed public make. Real news goes beyond the headlines, beyond the choreographed on-screen content the administration’s propaganda apparatus is only too happy to provide.
The First Amendment provides for both a free press and free speech. Unfortunately, there are no Constitutional guarantees for sound editorial judgment.