Now that US President Donald Trump has risen overnight in the estimate of the political firmament and the public with his statesmanlike address to Congress on Tuesday night, his adverse comments on media achieve a higher significance. Derision turned to admiration for Trump, and for a moment the US media was redundant.
He began his speech with a reference to the slain Indian scientist Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was shot in Kansas last week, and the multiple acts of anti-Semitism that are sweeping the US. He attacked the narcotics trade and even used some JFK phrases like a message to “friend and foe” alike that America is now ready to lead. “Protect and defend” was another Kennedy inaugural quote. He touted $3 trillion up in the stock market, and was another man entirely.
Sober sans his red tie, he played the audience like a piano, hitting all the right notes. Suddenly the buffoon looked like being to the manor born. He had called for jobs and the call, he said, was heeded across corporate America. ‘Make in America’ was big time.
US President Donald Trump. Reuters file image
US President Donald Trump. Reuters file image
On this canvas the media he has sidelined and mocked and insulted became almost secondary. It was as if the Congress agreed the media had asked for it. That it had destroyed people and careers, reputations and marriages and now had to face the consequences. And the public echoed his sentiments. They do not like or trust the media anymore.
What can we, the Indian media with similar freedom granted to us, take as timely lessons from this development? Are we making ourselves vulnerable to “dislike” and loathing from the public?
When you visit the Press Clubs in most of our cities, you notice as many Mr Fix-its and PR-types as you do mainline journalists filling the spaces. And you begin to wonder if Trump’s war on the media has a little merit in it as its practitioners of the fourth estate discover they are following agendas rather than following the story.
And the more earnest ones are being eclipsed by slick, silver-tongued salesmen of the “story” as they perceive it.
Somewhere along the line it’s possible we have let ourselves down by allowing our ranks to be infiltrated by impostors who use the “press” label more for their personal gain than to get access to the corridors of power. The line between packaging public relations and imaging on one side and hardcore news on the other has become indistinct and far too often indistinguishable.
As a result, the most important aspect is the manufacture and marketing of news. In the first, have we begun to create headlines where none exist and break down that once impregnable wall between pure reportage and commentary. That was the most vital element in journalistic ethics: You protected your sources, you believed in the sanctity of “of the record”, you confirmed and reconfirmed your facts and you never sold anyone down the river. And you reported those facts without comment.
Now, we take the story and mold it to suit our preconceived concepts of what will sell. The singer has become more important than the song and with accountability taking a back row seat, there is a sort of “anything goes, fling the mud and some will stick” approach to events and the prisms through which we project the distortions to the public.
I am deliberately staying away from introducing any specific issues or newsbreaks because that would detract from this call to tick a box; do we need to heal ourselves?
Fake news, says Trump, and he is not too far off the mark. What is the qualitative difference between cooking up a story per se and ballooning as mini event into a religious or cultural controversy of monumental proportions?
Media does not check its facts, says Donald Trump. Thanks to the instant nature of delivering occurrences, who has the time for this luxury, we just go with what we have. Hard luck if social platforms are bloated with untruths, it’s par for the course, the fiscal pie is only so large, and survival has not parameters of conduct.
Media runs reports according to its corporate or government controlled puppet masters and stuff the shape of the facts to suit its masters, says the hostile president. Do we? Echo answers who, but there is a bit of a flinch. However, these are mere thorns in comparison to the main issue before us as the bridge between the public and the power brokers.
While it is our job to ensure that the freedom of the press allows for investigation of the elected servants of the people and their actions, do we have the right to release classified information and make it public?
If it is classified, “for your eyes only”, top secret, need to know, confidential or any of the acronyms used to ensure the security of a nation, does the media have the sanction to ferret for such information and provide comfort to the enemies of the state and the public?
This is an issue that the media must address and address it within its ranks. If we have begun to believe that we are above D-notices and security related gag orders, or do we think it’s our duty to get that classified file and disclose its contents, why have any confidentiality at all? Let all the washing hang out, dirty linen and all.
We are journalists, not vigilantes and in our rush to be first with the scoop, perhaps we are forgetting the difference.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of our media today is that the walls on our hall of fame are empty and we have no one to look up to, no one to enshrine the values that make journalism such an honour and privilege as a career.
During his first speech as president to a joint session of Congress, President Trump said his administration is “taking steps to protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism.”
Months before, on the campaign trail, Trump appeared to revel in his forceful use of the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” even when his critics grimaced.
Not one to be easily deterred, Trump continued his use of the phrase from the earliest moments of his presidency when he promised to eradicate the threat of radical Islamic terrorism “from the face of the earth” during his inauguration speech.For Trump and many of his supporters, the phrase has never been just a phrase but a carefully worded departure from the Obama administration’s – and the Bush administration’s – understanding of the world and the U.S. government’s role in combating terrorism.
Former President Barack Obama used the phrase “violent extremism,” which severed the violence carried about by terrorists from any immediate association with theology. Trump and many of his associates, meanwhile, have been explicit about their belief that Western democracy is at war with Islam.
“We cannot let this evil continue,” Trump said during a September speech in Estero, Florida, that was typical of his campaign rhetoric. “Nor can we let the hateful ideology of radical Islam . . . be allowed to reside or spread within our country. Just can’t do it.”
“We will not defeat it with closed eyes or silent voices,” he added. “Anyone who cannot name our enemy is not fit to lead this country.”
Now – with Trump neck-deep in the swamp he has promised to drain – the question on the minds of many security experts is whether the president will continue to use a phrase that his most ardent supporters relish, but that many experts, including his new national security adviser, have recommended he eliminate from his vocabulary.
The first significant test may come Tuesday night, when Trump delivers his first speech as president to a joint session of Congress. The speech arrives only days after Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, urged the president in a closed-door meeting to refrain from using the words “radical Islamic terrorism,” according to Politico.
McMaster’s reasoning, according to CNN, is that terrorists who profess to act in accordance with Islam aren’t true adherents of the religion but anomalies who pervert its teachings. McMaster argued that using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” damages the country’s ability to partner with key allies, many of whom are Muslim.
“The trouble with the phrase ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ is that it makes no distinction between the variants that are Sunni and Shiite, which are radically different,” said Bruce Hoffman, director of Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies. “I think there are important distinctions, and if you say ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ does that lump in groups like Hamas, for example?”
“The engine that drives policy should always be specific enough to link means to ends,” he added.
Trump’s use of the phrase not only departs from his immediate predecessor in the White House but also from the Bush administration, which was at the helm during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that ushered the United States into its contemporary struggle against terrorism.
During an appearance on NBC News’ “Today” show this week, former president George W. Bush reiterated his long-standing position that the terrorism threat is not a religious war but an ideological one.
“I think it’s very important for all of us to recognize one of our great strengths is for people to be able to worship the way they want to or to not worship at all,” Bush said. “A bedrock of our freedom is the right to worship freely.”
During an hour-long phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month, Trump “vowed to join forces to fight terrorism in Syria and elsewhere, according to the White House and the Kremlin, signaling a potential shift in U.S.-Russian relations that have been marked by high tension,” according to The Washington Post.
If the partnership deepens, the two leaders may have to confront Trump’s use of the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.” The New York Times reported that Putin has a long history of trying not to link terrorists to Islam and goes so far as referring to the Islamic State as “the so-called Islamic State.”
“I would prefer Islam not be mentioned in vain alongside terrorism,” Putin said at a news conference in December, according to the Times.
Experts say one of the most important U.S. allies that could be affected by the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” are Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq and Syria, a group that has played a pivotal role in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State in that region.
Hoffman said there are countless distinctions across the globe which underscore the importance of avoiding abstraction when our leaders send signals to the rest of the world.
“We’re talking about multiple terrorist entities that may have a common theological element, but their interests in some cases are local or regional instead of international and in some cases their interests are more international,” he said. “The classic Pakistani Taliban has more narrow goals than al-Qaeda.”
“Our enemies aren’t monolithic,” Hoffman added.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post