Trump’s War On The Media And Truth: What It Means For America

Our right to understand the inner workings of the Trump Administration is under siege by the president himself.
01/23/2017 12:20 am ET Updated Jan 24, 2017

Our right to understand the inner workings of the Trump Administration is under siege by the president himself. Here’s what that could mean for America.

Just within the roughly 48 hours of Donald Trump taking the oath of office, he, Reince Priebus, and Kellyanne Conway have all declared war on the media and the truth as we know them. Make no mistake: The Trump Administration is at war with our right to see into its inner workings. By claiming that the truth is all fabricated while also propagating misinformation via both Twitter and the traditional press, Trump and his team are on a campaign of deceit the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Bush Administration’s declaration of WMDs in Iraq which led to the Iraq war.

First, let’s chronicle the highlights of what the new Trump Administration has done since Inauguration Day. Then, we’ll look at just what it may mean for the rest of his term.

One of the Trump Administration’s first actions — which may well set a precedent for how it continues handling what it sees as unfair media coverage — was to ban the entire Department of the Interior from tweeting across all of its various Twitter accounts for more than 24 hours. The reason? The National Park Service retweeted a couple of tweets speaking about the small size of Donald Trump’s inauguration crowd. (For those not on Twitter: Retweeting just means sharing someone else’s tweet through your own account.)

Now, we all know how much size matters to Donald Trump, so he hasn’t taken too kindly to the suggestions that his inauguration crowd was smaller than those of past presidents. The following email was obtained by Gizmodo as pertains to the official shutdown of the agency’s tweets:

All:
We have received direction from the Department through [the Washington Support Office] that directs all [Department of Interior] bureaus to immediately cease use of government Twitter accounts until further notice.
PWR parks that use Twitter as part of their crisis communications plans need to alter their contingency plans to accommodate this requirement. Please ensure all scheduled posts are deleted and automated cross-platform social media connections to your twitter accounts are severed. The expectation is that there will be absolutely no posts to Twitter.
In summary, this Twitter stand down means we will cease use of Twitter immediately. However, there is no need to suspend or delete government accounts until directed.
This does not affect use of other approved social media platforms. We expect further guidance to come next week and we will share accordingly.
Thanks for your help!

Note the passage, “there is no need to suspend or delete government accounts until directed.” This suggests that, at least initially, the Trump Administration was planning on not just forcing the Interior Department to simply cease Twitter activity, but also to shut the accounts completely down. This would have been an extraordinary step just to counter information the administration found disagreeable. Shutting down the entire department’s various Twitter accounts would have begun a process of setting Donald Trump himself up to become the only official source of information about his government. And just because he has not yet taken such a step doesn’t necessarily mean that he won’t at some point in the future.

Trump himself has also continued his crusade against the media. We already know about the bizarre press conference which happened less than two weeks ago. But he followed it up on Saturday with possibly an even more bizarre press event in which new White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer directly attacked reports about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd, including claims that the appearance of low turnout was effectively caused by camera tricks:

This was the first time in our nation’s history that floor coverings have been used to protect the grass on the Mall. That had the effect of highlighting any areas where people were not standing, while in years past the grass eliminated this visual.

The people were there, you just couldn’t see them because the floor coverings stood out more than the people! Yes, that’s basically his excuse. That previous link is to the entire transcript; you can read and judge for yourselves.

But this was simply the opening salvo in the Trump Administration’s all-out assault on the free press. Two potentially more significant developments have now materialized. First: Reince Priebus, Trump’s new Chief of Staff, launched his own attack against the media on Sunday, accusing it of trying to “delegitimize this president” and vowing to “fight back tooth and nail every day.” Secondly, on Sunday’s Meet the Press, Kellyanne Conway, in an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd, stated of Spicer’s rebuttal of the inauguration’s reported crowd size that he simply gave “alternative facts.”

That Ms. Conway can so cavalierly wrap up the concept of lies in a cute little wrapper called “alternative facts” should be alarming to every American, regardless of which side of the political spectrum you fall on. In just this one assertion, Kellyanne Conway has made it the official policy of the Trump Administration that it will use its power to deceive the American people. In this assertion, she has let us know in no uncertain terms that nothing this administration says can be taken at face value. The Trump team has been attempting to lie and mislead since the campaign; we now have as the official policy of the United States government that our top elected officials will lie to our faces and call it “alternative facts.” Fake news has now been given an official platform in United States governance.

What This Potentially Means for America

The Trump Administration’s attack on the media, the truth, and anything it personally finds distasteful, gives us a number of early warning signs into the type of information clampdown we may see in the coming months. In his statement during the inaugural ball on Friday night, Trump expressed his desire to effectively supplant the entire news media with his Twitter account. The continuing attacks on official media outlets by both Trump and his closest aides suggest that the entire administration is preparing to launch an all-out assault on press freedom, and to wage a campaign to discredit the entire media apparatus of our nation.

In my recent letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, I warned of the dangers of allowing Donald Trump to use Twitter as his own personal news outlet. The administration has signified that it is willing to make these dangers a reality. Should Trump also decide to bar any other government sources from using social media to convey to the public what is going on, while also discrediting the free press and cutting off their access to the administration, he will effectively turn his Twitter account into his own personal, state-run media outlet. In other words: Donald Trump (and his closest aides) will become the be-all, end-all source for all information coming from his government. And given the administration’s penchant for rendering the truth meaningless and its willingness to feed us lies and call them the truth, this would be an unprecedented information blackout on the American populace.

In fairness — and in the interest of full disclosure — a few have cautioned that the removal of Donald Trump’s Twitter account would amount to censorship, and that doing so in its own right would potentially be a slippery slope. This criticism is valid; however, I am not aware of a better way to try and stop the Trump Administration’s plan to both discredit the news media and to block it from using its First Amendment rights to report on its policies and procedures. I am not one to believe in outright censorship; however, I am a believer in preventing the use of the First Amendment to propagate an agenda which has the very real possibility of harming the entire nation, if not the world. We can debate on ways to make the press itself more accountable in its handling of certain issues; however, we cannot let the President of the United States declare it unfit and to use a social media account as the face of the entire government. It is now more important than ever that Donald Trump’s war against the press and the truth be stopped — no matter what it takes.

CONVERSATIONS