10 December 2017

Press freedom and accountability

The President once more enraged most of the media establishment by issuing a tweet demanding that a Washington Post reporter be fired for issuing a tweet misrepresenting the attendance at a presidential rally in Florida. The tweet ironically described the event as "packed to the rafters," illustrating that with a picture of a far from full venue actually taken a few hours before the event began. The reporter claims he made an honest mistake because the picture shows Trump on stage, the President having arrived in advance of the event. The President sees this as another case of "fake news" intended to belittle him, and it's fair to ask whether he'd give a damn if any other politician or entertainer was treated the same way. One can't help wondering whether he thinks the reporter's real offense is lese-majeste or something tantamount to "slandering the state." Almost certainly, this President thinks he's entitled to more respect, if not more deference, than he's been getting in the media. But if his inferred attitude represents an extreme of intolerance of criticism or lampooning, there is, inevitably, an opposite extreme indulgent of almost any excess justifiable by suspicion of power, that would rather see reporters err, intentionally or not, with impunity than have them unwilling to take risks for fear of punishment. The idea here is that any prosecution or penalization of a journalist, justifiable or not, will have a chilling effect on all future scrutiny of leaders while giving those leaders a slippery-slope rationale for persecuting any reporter who doesn't see things the same way they do. But that would be like arguing that actually holding leaders accountable through impeachment and criminal trials would discourage anyone from seeking political office. In either case we would be better off viewing every case in objective isolation instead of treating them as episodes in perpetual campaigns effecting everybody. To be clear, I don't think the Post reporter should be sacked for a bit of Twitter snark that blew up in his face. But to argue that the media need answer to no one for its excesses, or that to demand some answerability is tyrannical, is itself potentially tyrannical, albeit in a different register, so long as you understand tyranny as that to which no one can say no.

1 comment:

hobbyfan said...

President Manchild needs to grow up. Period.