It’s the government. The actual United States federal government, not China or Russia or some other despotism. And whether it’s incompetence or general malpractice, something needs to change.
The government’s current relationship with the independent media is harmful to the American public. People turn to the president in times of crisis; think of JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis or FDR during World War II. The office is trusted, and people tend to believe elected officials.
But Donald Trump actively degrades the media and alienates them, restraining them from doing their job of informing the people. When he is actively saying things that aren’t true from the presidential podium, or when he is advocating for the country to reopen its doors by Easter, he is damaging the good work the rest of the informed public is doing.
During the outbreak of COVID-19, the president’s attacks on the media have become more frequent and more intense. He told Yamiche Alcindor, White House Correspondent for PBS Newshour, to “be nice. Don’t be threatening.” He’s repeatedly gone back and forth with CNN’s Jim Acosta, including an exchange at the end of February in which he said the reporter had the “worst record in the history of broadcasting.” He also called ABC’s Jon Karl, the President of the White House Correspondents’ Association, a “third-rate reporter” on Monday.
Trump’s actions go further than just lying and attacking reporters; he also just chooses not to inform them. His most recent press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, left her post after not giving a press briefing in her nine months in the administration. Grisham was the third press secretary during his time in office, and Kayleigh McEnany makes the fourth in just over three years.
On top of that, it isn’t just Trump who is failing to inform the people. Georgia governor Greg Kemp said last week that he only just heard that carriers of the virus could be asymptomatic. It’s the government’s job to inform the people and keep them safe, not to cause panic and be completely unprepared for a phenomenon that is routine in the history of humanity.
So, the media now has the responsibility to protect Americans. As much as the public distrusts the institution, it’s all they have left. In a time of crisis, people need someone to turn to. Most of the time, there’s no ill intent on the part of newspapers and broadcasters, and even if there is, it’s pretty easy to tell who to trust.
The broadcasts of Trump’s press conferences need to be tape delayed. Maybe if there’s a fact checker running across the screen anytime he opens his mouth, he’ll consistently tell the truth. There’s no downside here, and it can even be instituted for future presidencies just to be consistent and encourage transparency.
The media can be a mediator in the interests of everyone outside the White House. Americans deserve the truth, and we’re quickly running out of options.