Column | Justice Department’s assault on the First Amendment
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is on a roll and, it would appear, hell bent on keeping his job.
Making his best effort to please his boss and rid himself of the taint associated with his recusal from the Trump-Russia collusion investigation, he has instructed the anti-trust division of the Department of Justice to put the kibosh on AT&T’s proposed merger with Time Warner if it does not spin-off Time Warner’s CNN unit. Because, as we all know, CNN is the chief culprit when it comes to purveying “fake news.”
Were this any other administration, consumer protection would be sufficient motivation for the DOJ to initiate an anti-trust investigation into this deal. Media consolidation, where a small group of companies controls vast holdings, does not always yield a positive outcome for consumers. Yet, the brazen misuse of power being exercised by the president through his proxy, AG Sessions, is a blast across the bow of the ship of state. The Trump administration is launching a preemptive nuclear assault on the First Amendment.
Mr. Trump does not like the reporting CNN shares with its viewers. Nor that of MSNBC. Or ABC or CBS or NBC. And let’s throw in the New York Times, Politico, and the Washington Post; and, at times, the Wall Street Journal as well. The president chooses not to hear them, read them, or recognize these news organizations. He sees them as the enemy, even as he often attempts to manipulate them to his advantage. He would prefer they be silenced because they speak truth to power. They dig deep to uncover, expose, and honestly report on the sometimes-unpleasant realities of our world; and shed light on stories whose importance is unknown to those who choose to dwell in darkness.
The only news that isn’t “fake news” for the president is that which airs on Fox News or in Breitbart, the Drudge Report, and the sundry other websites that make a point of channeling the thoughts, hate-speak, deranged philosophy, and outright lies promulgated by some of the more extreme alt right organizations currently blighting the American landscape.
The president chooses to ignore any factually-accurate, heavily sourced, well-reported stories that call into question the behavior of those surrounding him, his own missteps and misdeeds, as well as his incomprehensible agenda.
News organizations that the president targets, in this case CNN, are not perfect. They do, on occasion, make mistakes. There have been instances where their reporting has been inaccurate. The difference between these legitimate journalists and those occupying the president’s preposterously parallel universe, however, is that they are willing to own up to their gaffes when they occur; publicly apologize, or print retractions and, in some cases, dismiss editors and reporters who fail to get the story right.
Besides the aforementioned-sources upon whom the president chooses to rely, it is becoming increasingly clear that many transmitting “fake news” do so unwittingly. Social media has created an international community that, in theory, is bound together by a desire to connect, to invite, to “friend,” to “like,” to share. Therein lies a danger. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo!, WikiLeaks and many more outlier websites that are emerging each day have become less-obvious repositories of misinformation.
Unlike the mainstream media, there are few true fact-checkers in the far-reaching social media world; mostly, there are algorithms. There aren’t enough bodies – canine or human – to pull back the proverbial curtain and reveal for all to see that the great and powerful Oz might just be a racially-motivated social misfit, a four-hundred-pound hacker sitting on their bed, as the president would have us believe; or someone in Russia, China, North Korea, the Ukraine or, quite possibly, merely a wretched propagandist like Stephen K. Bannon.
While sites like Snopes and FactCheck.org do exist, it is up to consumers to take the initiative to uncover whether there is veracity in the information being disseminated online. Though these organizations have a dedicated group of determined flesh-and-blood contributors in the mix, much of what is confirmed or debunked through these sites is rooted in algorithms as well.
Technology may accelerate the ability to source and gather information and check facts, but there is nothing more reliable than doing so the old-fashioned way: pick up the phone, pound the pavement, collar those in the know. Which is exactly what the free press in all its permutations attempts to do. And precisely what the president doesn’t want them doing.
The draconian measures the Executive Branch is attempting to employ to silence CNN through the judiciary should frighten anyone who values truth and free speech. Opinion and propaganda is not news, yet it is precisely what the president and his proxies want us to accept as reality through their efficient and unbridled use of social media. Consumer beware.