The Jury Talks Back

12/11/2018

TIME Person of the Year: The Fake News Media

Filed under: Uncategorized — Patterico @ 8:18 am

That’s not how they phrase it, of course, but it’s how You Know Who will phrase it:

The choice is getting roundly derided for being breast-beating “look at me!” journalism. That’s both fair and unfair, depending on which parts of the article you read.

There are inspiring stories in there, having nothing really to do with Trump, about brave journalists who have suffered outrageous governmental retribution for their truthful reporting. Most followers of the news know the Khashoggi story, but do you know these stories?

And in prison in Myanmar, two young Reuters reporters remain separated from their wives and children, serving a sentence for defying the ethnic divisions that rend that country. For documenting the deaths of 10 minority Rohingya Muslims, Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone got seven years. The killers they exposed were sentenced to 10.

This year brought no shortage of other examples. Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam was jailed for more than 100 days for making “false” and “provocative” statements after criticizing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in an interview about mass protests in Dhaka. In Sudan, freelance journalist Amal Habani was arrested while covering economic protests, detained for 34 days and beaten with electric rods. In Brazil, reporter Patricia Campos Mello was targeted with threats after reporting that supporters of President-elect Jair Bolsonaro had funded a campaign to spread false news stories on WhatsApp. And Victor Mallet, Asia news editor for the Financial Times, was forced out of Hong Kong after inviting an activist to speak at a press club event against the wishes of the Chinese government. Worldwide, a record number of journalists—262 in total—were imprisoned in 2017, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which expects the total to be high again this year.

How well do you know this one?

“I can tell you this,” declared Chase Cook, a reporter for the Capital Gazette. “We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.”

Cook’s promise, shared with the world on Twitter, came just a few hours after five of his colleagues were killed. The man charged with their murders had been obsessed with the paper since it wrote about his harassment of a high school classmate—part of its routine coverage of local legal proceedings. He made the office a crime scene. To put the damn paper out, staffers set up laptops in the bed of a pickup in a parking garage across the street.

When the next edition arrived—on schedule—the opinion page was blank but for the names of the dead. Gerald Fischman. Rob Hiaasen. John McNamara. Rebecca Smith. Wendi Winters. Beneath their names was a coda that might have been written with a goose quill: “Tomorrow this page will return to its steady purpose of offering our readers informed opinion about the world around them, that they might be better citizens.”

These stories merit further publicity. But, of course, TIME can’t be satisfied with that. As anyone would predict, they also have to administer the mandatory dose of Trump-centric lecturing.

A month after taking office, President Trump sat for an interview with Breitbart, the right-wing online news site that had been run by his then chief strategist, Steve Bannon. “The fake media is the opposition party,” the President declared. “The fake media is the enemy of the American people.”

The “enemy” line had been floated 10 days earlier, in a tweet that named the offending news organizations: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

The President may not have known the history of the phrase. It was used in the Soviet Union, to condemn subordinates at the 1930s show trials Joseph Stalin ordered before executing those who had fallen out of favor. “The people” were peasants who had starved after Stalin confiscated grain harvests. The officials were the dictator’s scapegoats.

It’s not that they don’t have a point. It’s that the point is out of place in an article designed to showcase brave truthtellers. The president’s attitude towards the news media is ridiculous. Sometimes they deserve the derision, but often they don’t. But the difference here is that nobody in Donald Trump’s America is getting imprisoned or killed by Donald Trump for Bravely Standing Up to Him. In short, Jim Acosta (briefly lost his press pass) is not Kyaw Soe Oo, or Wa Lone (imprisoned for telling the truth about genocide) or even Jamal Khashoggi (murdered for criticizing the Saudi regime). So why is Acosta mentioned in the same article?

For once, couldn’t they just let the brave and lesser-known reporters be the true focus of attention?

And of course the answer is no.

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