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An influential Fox and the president

January 2, 2019

We know that presidents and politicians all follow the news closely and are generally and easily angered by what they consider negative news stories and elated by those that suggest or indicate their political or legislative success. Complaints by presidents about media coverage date to George Washington and include even storied champions of a free press like Thomas Jefferson.

Richard Nixon’s feuds with the media reached a level hard to equal during Watergate coverage but, as he has done in so many other areas, Donald Trump has broken the mold.

Trump’s drumbeat about “fake news” — that is, any news reports, even those quoting him directly that cast him in a negative light, his continued demeaning of reporters as disgusting, rude, terrible people at his political therapy rallies, and his praise of at least one congressman, Greg Gianforte of Montana as “my kind of guy” because he body-slammed a reporter who asked a question about healthcare making the most dangerously anti-First Amendment president in history. And he capped off his hatred of media by famously declaring that the press “is the enemy of the American people.”

He has made an exception of Fox News that, to all intents and purposes should be renamed “Trump TV.” Fox essentially became the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. However, in the week before Christmas, the White House and the Republican Party seemingly became the executive and legislative arms of Fox News and its right-wing media confederates.

The Senate had passed unanimously a continuing resolution to keep the government funded and operating into February an action with which Trump said he agreed.

But then on Dec. 19, the far right website Breitbart ran an opinion piece by the legendary conservative troll Ann Coulter entitled, “Gutless President in a Wall-Less Country.” The day before, Fox News host Laura Ingraham issued her own screed on the network’s website lambasting congressional Republicans for not providing wall spending and telling Trump to “bring on the shutdown.” Rush Limbaugh and others among conservative infotainment bloviators chimed in that Trump would be the loser if the wall were unfunded before Democrats took control of the house.

By close of business on Thursday, Dec. 20, Trump called Paul Ryan from the White House to renege on his pledge to sign a short-term spending measure. Thus the right-wing media succeeded in shutting down a large segment of the American government, even though polls show that at least 57 percent of Americans oppose expanding the wall on the Mexican border. It appears that the worst elements of the far right media now have a lock on both Congress and the White House — institutions apparently filled with believers in the Limbaugh-Hannity-Carlson line, indicating the takeover of the entire Republican Party by extremist media organs and their infotainment stars.

Dealing with Trump’s paranoia, emotional instability and profound ignorance are bad enough without now having to face government by low-rent, right-wing shock jocks. Yes, we all want to make a difference and even if you classify the far right and alt-right media warriors as journalists, which I do not, what all of us in the communications business must keep in mind is that we are neither elected nor responsive to anyone who is put in office to govern.

None of us must prove that our ideas make for good governance, and what is especially frightening is that Donald Trump appears to be on the puppet strings not just of authoritarians like Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but also of unelected unrepresentative pseudo-journalists like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, right-wing media mavens who, according to a provocative new book by three scholars at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University entitled “Network Propaganda: Manipulation (and) Disinformation in American Politics” represent a media environment that “has been much more susceptible to disinformation, lies, and half-truths.”

To have an American president so keen on reacting to and placating such a crowd is about as scary as it can get.

In the new year, it appears as if America’s hopes will be tied to both a Democratic House of Representatives and the continued professional probity of Robert Mueller and his truth-seeking minions.

Stephan Lesher is a retired journalist and a resident of Southbury.

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