I started writing this column last week, thinking that it would just be about fake news.
Fake news is way too easy to create and spread. Take, for example, the case of Cameron Harris. On Sept. 30, the 23-year-old, desperate for money, bought an abandoned web address for $5, wrote a fabricated story about fraudulent Hillary Clinton ballots in fifteen minutes and within days had secured himself $5,000.
But then things got exponentially worse over the period of just a few days. What’s happening right now isn’t just about fake news anymore. This is about the new presidential administration leading an all out assault on the media.
On Jan. 21, one day after the presidential inauguration, Donald Trump gave a speech at the CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
“As you know, I have a running war with the media,” Trump said. “They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”
On the same day, press secretary Sean Spicer, simply put, lied about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration.
Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway appeared on Meet the Press the next day and defended Spicer.
“If we’re going to keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms, I think that we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here,” Conway said. “Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.”
On Jan. 24, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of the Interior were given several restrictions. Employees of these agencies are currently banned from posting on their official social media accounts or speaking with members of the press or Congress.
The same day, Trump tweeted praise for Fox News and called CNN fake news for the second time.
“Congratulations to @FoxNews for being number one in inauguration ratings. They were many times higher than FAKE NEWS @CNN — public is smart!”
On Jan. 25, reports surfaced that at least six journalists had been arrested for attempting to cover inauguration protests. They were charged with felony rioting and could face up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
George Orwell in his political dystopian novel “1984” warns: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
The fake news epidemic led to a dangerous distrust of the media by the president and administration. In retaliation, they censored their employees, sponsored a highly biased news source and arrested journalists for daring to do their jobs. Falsehoods, under the guise of “alternative facts” are being promoted, uttered and defended by some of the most powerful people in our country. These will blend in with the postmodern culture we live in, which already rejects the notion of an objective reality.
This is not a partisan issue. This is dangerous. This is something everyone, regardless of their political leanings, needs to be afraid of.
There’s a reason that the media is called the fourth estate, the other three being the three branches of the government. Its purpose is to inform the people and to ensure the transparency of those in power. These actions taken by the Trump administration are threatening the integrity of the first amendment guarantees of free speech and free press. In the Reynolds building, we proudly display this amendment on the blue wall next to the Student Publications office. These liberties are essential to a functioning society and democracy, and they are being taken away from us bit by bit.
I’d like to assure you that these rights will not be easily forfeited. Mainstream news media is still credible, regardless of the views of the president or his cronies. Journalists are incredibly resilient people and they will strive to uncover the truth no matter the circumstances.
Orwell continues: “There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”