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Oppenheim: The War On Media

I like to take in the news with a critical eye, and can understand why some people don’t trust the media. After all, these days the news is less Walter Cronkite and more Bill O’Reilly than it used to be - with more variety and partisanship in news reporting than ever before.

And with such diversification, it can be challenging at times to defend the media – as in the single term we often use to represent all news outlets, whether on air, online or in print.

That said, there’s just no getting around the general attack President Trump and his staff have launched on journalism itself. The President accuses reporters of - his words - “dishonesty, total deceit and deception” and calls the media the “opposition party,” while his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, advises the media to “keep its mouth shut and listen for a while.”

At the same time, news organizations are being more assertive. When White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed Trump drew “the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period,” media reports used terms like “false statements” and sometimes “lies.” Same goes for when the President claimed – falsely – that three to five million people voted illegally and that’s why he didn’t win the popular vote.

It’s true that Presidents and the press don’t always get along. In a democracy, it’s the job of the latter to speak truth to power – and to hold the White House accountable. Now the Trump administration is saying it’s only holding the press accountable too. And in a messy media world where there actually is a lot of poor or inaccurate reporting, it’s tempting to think there could be some validity to that idea.

But so far, this administration isn’t behaving like an honest broker. Their insistence on “alternative facts” contributes to the perception that they are deceptive and dishonest.

And there’s danger in what they’re doing. Maligning the media to such an extent can only further erode faith in the fourth estate such that the public will inevitably confuse fact with fiction. To a certain degree, one can argue that’s already happened.

It’s not the media’s job to be “the opposition party,” but it is the media’s job to report the truth as best it can. And that’s really something worth defending.

Keith Oppenheim, Associate Professor in Broadcast Media Production at Champlain College, has been with the college since 2014. Prior to that, he coordinated the broadcasting program at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan (near Grand Rapids). Keith was a correspondent for CNN for 11 years and worked as a television news reporter in Providence, Scranton, Sacramento and Detroit. He produces documentaries, and his latest project, Noyana - Singing at the end of life, tells the story of a Vermont choir that sings to hospice patients.
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