Donald Trump addressed the nation through a press conference on 16 February. He started out with a 'humble-brag': "I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done... A new Rasmussen poll just came out just a very short while ago, and it has our approval rating at 55 percent and going up. The stock market has hit record numbers, as you know..."
And, this pretty much set the tone for the rest of the press conference. This is not to say that Barack Obama or presidents who came before Trump didn't brag — they did, but in ways that didn't outright scream: 'Hey! Look at me. Look at me. Look at me. I am awesome. You are not. I am the best.'
Props to The Donald though, no other president perhaps took on the press with such viciousness before him on a first solo news conference. AP reported how the president "bullied reporters, dismissed facts and then cracked a few caustic jokes." Trump accussed: "The press — the public doesn't believe you people anymore. Now, maybe I had something to do with that. I don't know. But they don't believe you...But you've got to be at least a little bit fair, and that's why the public sees it. They see it. They see it's not fair. You take a look at some of your shows and you see the bias and the hatred." According to AP, even Richard Nixon demonstrated better restraint during the Watergate Days.
Trump's behaviour has never been presidential, that has been established many-a-time, anybody remember him wanting to grab things by the meow? But ever since he took office, he hasn't restrained himself. Not one bit. Silence is golden, hasn't the president learnt that? And in times when there is enough social media chatter about a variety of things, silence can be especially golden.
The kind of stuff the president tweets about but in fact shouldn't be tweeting about:
Just leaving Florida. Big crowds of enthusiastic supporters lining the road that the FAKE NEWS media refuses to mention. Very dishonest!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2017
And at the solo press conference, an opportunity, Trump should have taken to seem more presidential but did not. Instead, he berated an Orthodox Jewish reporter who asked about an increase in antisemitic incidents that he asked an insulting question. To an African-American reporter who asked about his plan for the inner cities and if Trump had consulted with the Congressional Black Caucus he said: “Tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting? Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?” With that one comment, Trump highlighted his narrow worldview and reaffirmed that fact that black people are othered. To assume (even if he or Kellyanne Conway correct it later as a joke?) that black people or the black community is monolithic is just plain wrong. And here's another excellent example of Trump's incompetence and oozing 'unpresidentialness' (If Kellyanne can make up words, so can I).
President Donald Trump is corrected by NBC reporter after falsely claiming he had the biggest electoral margin since President Reagan. pic.twitter.com/a7K16mU0Pc — Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) February 16, 2017
He made false claims that he won the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan. He did not, Obama won more than him. To which he responded, "I meant in the Republicans". Well, George HW Bush won more, to which he responded: "I was given bad information." When asked about Russia and Trump administration's relation to Russia, Trump said: "And, you know, you can talk all you want about Russia, which was all as you know, fake news, fabricated deal, to try and make up for the loss of the Democrats and the press plays right into it... It’s all fake news. It’s all fake news."
Donald Trump's deep mistrust of the press isn't something real, it is a Kim-Jong-Unesque hatred of criticism, even constructive criticism. The emperor isn't wearing any clothes, but he doesn't want the people to acknowledge that.
It is not news anymore that Donald Trump has a hate-hate relationship with the media. He has called journalists dishonest and has admitted to "running a war" with the media. He doesn't share a good rapport with CNN, and publicly dissed Buzzfeed, post the 'Golden-Shower' issue by calling it 'fake news'. And the term 'fake news' has stuck on like burrs. It's Trump's go-to card for calling out any criticism of him or his government.
The problem is that Trump has unfiltered access to write whatever he wants on Twitter holds great appeal for citizenry that appreciates an unplugged sort of president. So as President of the United States, when he takes to social media and brazenly writes 'fake news', 'wrong', or blames 'leaks', he is legitimising blatant lies. His team of experts, Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer are ever ready to bail him out of his tweets. And his tweets wouldn't have made sense to even his most faithful supporters, if in reality 'fake news' was a myth, a Santa Claus, but there is an unfortunate reality that fake news does exist.
In fact, it had a 'yuge' role to play in getting Trump elected — Samanth Subramanian's piece for Wired 'The Macedonian Teens Who Mastered Fake News' shines a bright light on the crisis in the news industry. But, for Trump to spin that crisis on its head and shake the foundation of established media houses and practices is dangerous. It puts forth an agenda that nothing can be trusted, only the government. Steve Bannon, chief White House strategist said in a negative way that the media is the Opposition party. Well, that is indeed what the press is supposed to do: be the watchdog, inform, interpret and interest. But the Trump administration is painting the very purpose of existence of the press as wrong/unnecessary.
'Alternative facts' and Kellyanne Conway
Many have taken to the internet to express their frustration with Conway and how she manages to get away without actually answering the questions asked. When she was cornered about Trump's inauguration crowd claims, she smoothly slipped in that the White House gave alternative facts. "You're saying it's a falsehood, and Sean Spicer, our press secretary gave alternative facts," she said. Well, in Randy Rainbow's words (please sing this) "Alternative facts are facts that aren't facts. They are just facts that you made up and called facts. You can't just make up facts, if the facts are not facts. Alternative facts not really facts."
And this is the sort of classic deflection that Trump and his media surrogates use, especially Conway. Vox put out an excellent video trying to isolate why Conway gets away with never answering a question: She uses a single keyword in a question and uses it constantly to talk about something else completely and uses the interviewers' natural disposition to be polite to her advantage.
The fourth estate must adapt and resist in the Trump era. Newsrooms across the US are grappling with the phenomenon that is The Donald and this is the time to actually reverse the claims of 'fake news' by actually targeting, highlighting existing fake news. The relevance of the truth is most important in the what has now come to be known as the post-truth era. There should be a move to discredit Kellyanne Conway, ask for them to be replaced, careful cataloguing of the actions of the government. If filter bubbles are the problem, there is a need to coordinate with social media giants in enabling that news remains neutral, algorithm-free.
Of course, a political/economic utopia is being described here. A percentage of this will do. And if we don't aspire to achieve it, there'll be no way back.