The Press Should Have an Antagonistic Relationship to Power

“Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” – Napoleon (Editor's note: Google told me this was a real quote so take it as you will)

Power needs to be held accountable at every turn. Those in positions to wield influence and control should not be trusted, simply because they have access to said power. This is not a new idea. People have been searching for ways to lessen the authority of those in control for time immemorial. The development of the free press was one of the more successful ways people sought to keep power in check. An independent body designed solely to report on, and keep in check, those in power. There haven’t been many ideas better than this one. Unfortunately, the press has not been doing its job as of late.

The idea of a “free press” is, of course, a bit of a misnomer. Our current capitalist society all but prevents any sort of free press from existing. Reporters and editors are beholden to, in some combination, advertisers, billionaire owners, and the gatekeepers to power. Most likely all three. A true Fourth Estate only exists in a void, where newspapers don’t have to sell ads to stay afloat, reporters don’t need to worry about insulting a company their boss owns, and the government isn’t an all-seeing information black box that lashes out when someone dares even question its validity. We have none of those things.

This of course, does not mean that the press can’t do a hell of a lot better than they currently are. And by press, I don’t mean your Brietbarts or your Prison Planets. I’m referring to groups like the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, that ilk. These outlets, especially the Times, which has recently started working to sell subscriptions by labeling itself as “the Resistance,” yet continues to publish articles with headlines like “Trump Condemns The Wave of Threats Against Jews,” instead of looking at Trump and Co’s past anti-Semitism, are doing almost nothing to help combat Trump and are often actively working with him in the name of “journalistic integrity.”

This "both sides” journalism is a huge factor in the rise of our current political hellscape. By bringing into the public arguments and people that have no use being there, i.e., Milo, or “mass deportations” instead of criminal repatriation, the media has allowed the far right to gain a foothold, a foothold which they’ve leveraged into the highest position in the world. The idea that the truth is somewhere in the middle is a false one and has caused a lot of problems.

The media allowing for discussions of topics that would normally be outré in the interest of hearing both sides is not the only issue the press is facing. Much more worrying, is its constant kowtowing to power in the name of access. We still see ostensibly esteemed press organizations granting anonymity to people in the Trump administration only to receive a bundle of soft-pedaled quotes about how the administration is facing some rough patches or whatever metaphor is going around that day. This isn’t a new thing either. During the Obama years, the press was so infatuated with him and their access to him that many things went underreported or non-reported simply out of “respect” or fear that their access would be lost. We see the same thing happening under Trump.

This needs to change. And change big. Calling him “Donald Dump” or whatever isn’t going to cut it. The press needs to shed itself of the idea of “respect for the office.” Donald Fucking Trump is President. If that person can become President, then the office never had, nor ever will have, any dignity. Same with White House briefings. Why are reporters still going? As we see time and again, no actual information comes out of them. Just don’t go. It’s a waste of time, money, and people that could be better spent doing real reporting elsewhere. Just as dumb name-calling won’t do anything, neither will “fact-checking” the President’s speeches. At this point you’re not going to change anyone’s mind by giving Trump 5 Pinocchio’s for calling Cambodia, a tax haven for gay Democrats, or whatever insane thing it is this week.

So what do you do? Actual reporting. Find sources willing to rat. Use FOIA while you still can. Question literally everything Trump does. Don’t just sit back and smile cause you wrote a blistering op-ed about how “Trump is actually a Greyjoy.” Get your Woodward and Bernstein on. Turn your damn words into some bayonets.