Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Jones: We need a free press, not one that bows to Trump's whims

IN THE WAKE of Donald Trump's victory in the presidential election, the battle for the soul of America has begun.

IN THE WAKE of Donald Trump's victory in the presidential election, the battle for the soul of America has begun.

It is playing out in boardrooms high above New York City, in off-the-record conversations between the president-elect, news executives and prominent reporters and on-air personalities.

Two such meetings took place this week. The first was with broadcast news executives and reporters at Trump Tower, and the second was with executives, editors and reporters at the New York Times.

Trump reportedly excoriated news executives from nearly every major media outlet during the closed-door meetings, strategically lobbing accusations that they'd dishonestly covered his presidential campaign. Doing so was tantamount to working the officials during a sporting event in the hopes that the next call will be favorable.

But this is not a contest whose ending is inconsequential. This contest - this battle - is for the very future of our country. It shouldn't be fought in closed-door meetings where the public never gets to join the fight.

Though Trump eventually went on the record Tuesday to tell the New York Times that he disavowed the white nationalists who are among his most ardent supporters, Trump's actions say otherwise. He appointed as his chief strategist Steve Bannon, who gave voice to white nationalists. He chose retired general Mike Flynn as national security adviser after Flynn said fear of Muslims is "rational." He chose Alabama U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general after Sessions was denied a federal judgeship in 1986 because of numerous allegations of racism.

Those actions have consequences, as we've seen in the rash of hatred and bigotry that has been unleashed in the wake of Trump's election. When bigots are emboldened to physically assault women who are wearing a Muslim head covering, or to paint swastikas on walls in Trump's name, or to threaten black students attending an Ivy League university, America is in danger.

The media must seek not only to provide the facts, but also to provide context.

In recent days, however, I've seen a troubling shift in the way these things are covered. Take white nationalism, for instance. Following Trump's election, various outlets, including the New York Times, have sought to explain that while white nationalists believe whites should control the economy, the government and the culture, they aren't necessarily white supremacists.

In my view, that is a dangerous softening of what white nationalism actually represents. Both viewpoints require one to believe that whites, as a group, are the only ones worthy of leadership and control. Both viewpoints require one to believe other groups must be subjugated. Both viewpoints are rooted in the belief that one's skin color is an indication of where one should fall in the pecking order of humanity.

In other words, both viewpoints are racist. There's just no other way to put it, and trying to parse words on such an important point serves only to normalize racism.

By appointing officials who have tried to rebrand racism as "white nationalism" or the "alt-right" while telling us that he wants to serve all Americans, Trump is saying one thing while plainly doing another.

The media's job is to tell that truth.

But if Trump, by browbeating and bullying the media, can control the narrative around such obvious truths, policies that target people of color will be overlooked. White nationalism and its close companion, white supremacy, will be accepted, and the free press America's founders enshrined in our Constitution will be worth little.

We can't allow our most prominent media outlets to return to the time when they were complicit in the bigotry that defined American society. But if those outlets refuse to ask the tough questions that must be posed, that is exactly what will happen.

I know that the Fourth Estate is in a period of flux. I know that Trump's amazing ascent on a platform driven by bigotry is the most interesting story of our time. I know that access to the Trump administration could determine who dominates the ratings.

But if news outlets are willing to reach for ratings at the expense of the truth, if we are willing to compromise to be in the good graces of any president, then we are no longer serving the people.

We're no longer a free, unfettered press.

Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him mornings from 7 to 10 on WURD (900-AM).