Mainstream Media Owes America More Than a Defensive Crouch

A professional dirt nap has never been more ill-timed.

When the good editors of Contemptor invited me to return to the site in mid-January after a three month, post-2016 Presidential election sabbatical, I committed to publishing twice monthly until the current academic semester ends. Among several hats I wear is an Adjunct Faculty one for the English Department at Northeastern Illinois University.

I have published only twice since crawling out of self-imposed exile. The last post, dated February 12, asked, Are Americans Wearing Down President Trump? It was a hopeful meditation, produced several weeks after the invigorating Women’s Marches and the robust, if more spontaneous airport demonstrations following Trump’s inhumane Muslim ban, “Executive Order.” We the People were on the offensive against demagogic, oppressive tyranny. Team Trump wasn’t enjoying it much.

Now I wonder if it’s time for a new question. The people seem to be hanging tough enough. See South Carolina Senator and faux “Never Trump” Republican Lindsey Graham’s latest Town Hall meeting as evidence. The frustrated masses are fired up and ready to go, but is President Trump exhausting members of the journalistic profession?

Things have gotten so bad that my dude, CNN Contributor and all-around eyes-wide-open smarty pants Van Jones was ready to be snookered after Trump’s Tuesday evening State of the Union-lite. “He became President of the United States in that moment, period.” Are the beleaguered, harried members of the “liberal” mainstream media so desperate for normalcy that a speech with a nativist, fear-mongering policy centerpiece is celebrated as statesmanlike?

From a semi-columnist perch, I suppose it’s easy to judge. I’m not there, day in and day out, being gaslit by “alternative facts” from this administration, barred from press conferences, bullied by an increasingly manic and desperate Sean Spicer. Right now I’m a very part-time “enemy of the people.”

The political contributor futility I’ve experienced thus far into 2017 offers one positive. The defensive crouch creates space for outsider reflection. From this perch, it seems as though members of the press in the Trump era have but one of three choices, and they’re all damned tough.

The steelier among us such as MSNBC’s Joy Reid, Esquire’s Charles Pierce or CNN’s Jake Tapper, put their metaphorical cigarettes out on their respective arms last November 9. They looked American audiences straight in the eye and said, “Challenge accepted.” The truth bombs must be thrown fast and furiously, but thrown they have consistently been. Good work folks. This is unfortunately, the media minority.

The second choice is to go to work on behalf of the administration. Fox News’ Sean Hannity is an unapologetic, cynical and douchetastic example of this stance applied in the extreme. More insidious, if less diabolically-intentioned cases can be found in the dementia-laced work of CNN’s Jones this week, or the consistently madcap efforts of Meet the Press host Chuck Todd. Oh how, how to balance a representation of facts with a need to stay on the White House’s good side?

The third and final option open to journalists is the fetal position. The one I’ve lately adopted, however passively. It’s not that there’s nothing to say. On the contrary, there’s just too much. This weekend, I was all set to focus on the recent surge of hate crimes in the Trump era. Then on Saturday, the President made the fact-free and astonishing Twitter claim that former President Obama wiretapped Trump Towers ahead of the November 8, 2016 election. Footing officially lost. Mouth gaping open anew.

The fact that the Trump administration is doing the rapid outrage routine in a purposeful, ill-concealed effort to keep the country and its Fourth Estate off balance offers little psychological reinforcement to some (me).

I’m not proud. A professional dirt nap has never been more ill-timed. Whether Americans are united on the point or not, the country needs the First Amendment, and doggedly determined pros to write, report and share the truth, more than ever. I suppose this column is a small way of apologizing, splashing my face with cold water and resolving not to stay beaten by repetitive acts of dangerous insanity. For now, I leave it with this from Bryant H. McGill.

The real violence is committed in the writing of history, the records of the legal system, the reporting of news, through the manipulation of social contracts, and the control of information.

 

Becky Sarwate is the current President of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, founded in 1885, as well as Recording Secretary for the National Federation of Press Women. She is a national award-winning journalist, blogger, newsletter editor and theater critic. Becky lives in Chicago with her partner Bob and their menagerie of pets. Keep up with her at beckysarwate.com.

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