MILWAUKEE – If President Trump’s first tumultuous weeks have done nothing else, at least they have again made us a nation of readers. As Americans grapple with the unreality of the new administration, George Orwell’s “1984” has enjoyed a resurgence of interest, becoming a surprise best seller and an invaluable guide to our post-factual world.
Charles J. Sykes, a reformed Right wing talk show host, acknowledges the role of his part of the media in fostering an allergy to truth.
For years, as a conservative radio talk show host, I played a role in that conditioning by hammering the mainstream media for its bias and double standards. But the price turned out to be far higher than I imagined. The cumulative effect of the attacks was to delegitimize those outlets and essentially destroy much of the right’s immunity to false information. We thought we were creating a savvier, more skeptical audience. Instead, we opened the door for President Trump, who found an audience that could be easily misled.
The news media’s spectacular failure to get the election right has made it only easier for many conservatives to ignore anything that happens outside the right’s bubble and for the Trump White House to fabricate facts with little fear of alienating its base.
Unfortunately, that also means that the more the fact-based media tries to debunk the president’s falsehoods, the further it will entrench the battle lines.
He argues that it is incumbent on the conservative media to promote the truth over ‘alternative facts’, and, more generally, that the media should take particular care to refrain from reporting unsubstantiated stories:
But now any news deemed to be biased, annoying or negative can be labeled “fake news.” Erroneous reports that the bust of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office or misleading reports that sanctions against Russia had been lifted will be seized on by Mr. Trump’s White House to reinforce his indictment.
This is a lesson which needs to be learnt by more than the Republican press.