President Donald Trump and Sen. John McCain have recently expressed their opinions of our national press and news media. Trump knocked them for biased reporting and producing “fake news,” calling some the enemy of the American people; McCain staunchly defended the need for an unfettered free press as democracy’s bulwark against dictatorships.
These appear to be diametrically opposed views, but … could they both be right? What is America’s “free press” anyway? Is it comprised of altruistic, truth-seeking reporters who work devilishly hard in the interest of the American public and hold to a time-honored ethic of honesty, equanimity, and national service? Or is it a cabal of large media corporations that collectively run both news and entertainment companies and whose dominant allegiance is monetary: owners and operators who have discovered a wellspring of money by embellishing factual news with a coating of sensationalistic hype and by sprinkling these half-truths with their own progressive, political fairy dust — owners and operators who have compromised the journalistic ethic and instead genuflect to profit gods by selling a mish-mash of “info-tainment” to the public under the guise of “news”?
The McCain concept of a free press is the stuff of American history, time-honored in black-and-white movies depicting heroic reporters rooting out evil for the public good. The Trump view is today’s unfortunate reality — what commercialization blended with the entertainment world’s fantasies has perpetrated upon what was once an honorable profession.
Fortunately the historic concept of journalistic ethic endures at local press outlets (independent newspapers and radio), but it has all but disappeared at the national level where media conglomerates dominate ownership of the airwaves and major newspapers. Since the late 1990s when broadcast news programming became commercialized, media corporations have infused their ranks with entertainment-minded, profit-first personnel with a liberal ideology. Rather than adhere to an ideal of neutrality and equanimity in their newsrooms, they’ve succumbed to a strong internal bias. As in kennels, inbreeding perpetuates the species, but weakens the breed.
Trump is correct for edifying what the national press and news media have become; likewise, McCain is right for advocating what the press should be.