The fourth estate is a term used to describe the free press as an unofficial fourth arm of the government. Among other things, they have historically been known for their journalistic integrity and commitment towards providing people with accurate information and holding government representatives accountable.
Donald Trump, though, has an alternative view on that. He and his administration have labeled mainstream media as “fake news” and claim that they are “the enemy of the American people.” Outlets like the New York Times, which throughout its history has shown the importance of the fourth estate, is now being called the “failing New York Times” while CNN has been branded as, “fake news CNN.”
His only solo press conference since the inauguration began and ended with attacks on the media. The highlights of his press conference include the following: inaccurately claiming the biggest electoral college victory margin since Ronald Regan; asking a senior African American reporter if she could set up a meeting with the Congressional black caucus and most famously saying, “the leaks are real, but the news is fake.”
The only mainstream media source that Trump trusts has been Fox News, and less than two weeks ago, he claimed that there was an attack in Sweden based on a segment he saw on Fox.
Since then, not only has it been clarified that there was no attack, in an ironic twist of events, it was also discovered that the expert they interviewed who was said to be a Swedish national security adviser did not even work for the Swedish government.
This was an honest mistake on Fox’s part, which they apologized for later. Yet, Trump was quiet about this because the contents of that segment played along perfectly with his narrative on refugees.
As someone writing for a college newspaper, I am deeply hurt that the president of the United States and his senior aides have called mainstream media outlets “the opposition.” Many aspiring journalists look up to these agencies because of their integrity in reporting and the vital role they play in society, which is to protect the constitutional rights of the people by providing checks and balances independent of the government.
Trump’s attacks against the media haven’t just been for reporting what he calls “fake news.” Trump lashed out at the media after outlets reporting on the distress in the administration before Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s resignation.
He had the same reaction when there were reports about his conversations with the Mexican president and the prime minister of Australia. The president apparently decides on the credibility of the news based on how the reports portray him.
The actions of the administration show how much they value transparency and free press. Just three days ago, Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a closed-door press briefing excluding news agencies that were considered unfriendly.
“If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and, many times, adversarial press,” Republican Senator John McCain said in an interview with NBC.
“And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.”
The American people have a vital role to play in ensuring that the power of the media is upheld during these trying times. The administration has decided that the best way to avoid the repercussions of their actions is to shoot the messenger.
Whether the administration likes it or not, they are accountable to the people. The American people need to make sure that they hold them to that.