The Right’s Long War on Media

Exclusive: A danger from the mainstream media’s Russia-gate obsession is that it reinforces a longstanding right-wing meme about a “liberal media” out to get conservatives, as Jonathan Marshall explains.

By Jonathan Marshall

Never in modern American history has a president so frontally gone to war with the media as Donald Trump, whose speeches and tweet storms blast critical stories as “fake news” and mainstream news outlets as “the enemy of the American people.”

President Donald Trump being sworn in on Jan. 20, 2017. (Screen shot from Whitehouse.gov)

“Get used to being stigmatized as ‘opposition,’” the head of media at Human Rights Watch warned reporters and editors shortly after the election. “[Trump’s] basic idea is simple: to delegitimize accountability journalism by framing it as partisan.”

So far, the Trumpian strategy seems to be working, at least with his base. A recent poll found that fewer than 10 percent of Republicans trust the media a lot, and 6 in 10 complain that the media “keep political leaders from doing their job.”

Trump’s critics, particularly in the media, portray his assault on the Fourth Estate as a “gift to tyrants everywhere” and as part of a radical campaign to “build an autocracy,” in the words of former Republican speechwriter David Frum.

I share their concerns, even as I readily acknowledge, and have often condemned, the major media’s widespread and sometimes blatant failings to report some subjects as accurately or fairly as they should.

But many of today’s righteous condemners of Trump fail to see that his attacks on the media are really the culmination of a relentless campaign over the past half century by conservatives to undercut institutions that stand in the way of their grab for power.

Leading the Charge

Although presidential attacks on the news media date back to the earliest days of the Republic, the modern conservative war on mainstream media was launched on Nov. 13, 1969, when Vice President Spiro Agnew condemned TV news broadcasters for daring to subject one of President Nixon’s speeches on Vietnam policy to “instant analysis and querulous criticism” instead…

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