- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
If he wins the 2024 election, Donald Trump will be America’s first dictator. This plan of retribution is advancing rapidly in preparation for Trump’s return to the White House – an outcome that seems increasingly likely given early polls which show him leading President Biden in key swing states. Trump’s MAGA supporters and tens of millions of other Republican voters support the traitor ex-president and his attempt to end multiracial democracy and to replace it with a new form of American apartheid. The Republican Party is in Trump’s thrall.
As an institution, the mainstream American news media is not built for this moment. They have had more than seven years to adapt. They have mostly chosen not to. In that way, the American news media in the Age of Trump is like a sports team that is continuing to run the same plays even though the game has radically changed and, in many ways, has passed them by. As a result, they (and the American people) keep losing.
From the bothsidesism to access journalism to confusing neutrality with objectivity and an emphasis on the horserace instead of the consequences, the media's obsession with gossip and personalities has provided an undue platform for Trump and other malign right-wing actors to rehabilitate their reputations and circulate their propaganda and lies. Careerism, a lack of intellectual curiosity, and emphasizing profits over bold truth-telling allow the cycle to continue as our democracy languishes.
For the news media to effectively counter Trumpism, there must be changes to its institutional culture that allow for substantive and sustained pro-democracy journalism. Because, in more than seven years, the American news media has not yet made these institutional changes, even when there are attempts to strongly confront Trumpism and the other illiberal forces that are threatening the nation, such moments are fleeting. The most recent example is the much-discussed reporting by The Washington Post and the New York Times on Trump and the American neofascists’ plans to end American democracy by invoking the Insurrection Act (meaning martial law), criminalizing dissent, nullifying the First Amendment, deporting “criminals” and other “enemies of the state” under the Alien Enemies Act, using the military to occupy Democratic-led cities, freeing the Jan. 6 MAGA terrorists who will then become Trump’s personal enforcers, and replacing career government professionals who follow the Constitution and rule of law with Trump regime loyalists.
It is critically important in terms of national agenda setting that The Washington Post and New York Times, as two of the country’s leading news publications, are sounding the alarm loudly about Dictator Trump and his cabal’s plans to end American democracy. Unfortunately, those warnings are muted by many of the same bad habits that helped to normalize the Age of Trump in the first place. In an excellent essay at the Inquirer, William Bunch explains:
There was a shocking and incredibly important story on the front page of the New York Times last week. As reported by an A-team of journalists including two Pulitzer Prize winners, the Times warned its readers that Donald Trump — if returned to the White House in 2025 — is grooming a new team of extremist government lawyers who would be more loyal to their Dear Leader than to the rule of law, and could help Trump install a brand of American fascism.
You say you didn’t hear anything about this? That’s not surprising. The editors at the Times made sure to present this major report in the blandest, most inoffensive way possible — staying true to the mantra in the nation’s most influential newsroom that the 2024 election shouldn’t be covered any differently, even when U.S. democracy is on the line.
“Trump Allies Want a New Style of Lawyer if He Returns to Power” was the original online headline for the piece, as if maybe they were talking about colorful drawling Southerners with seersucker suits, rather than rabid-dog ideologues who would do the dirty work of overturning an election that career government attorneys refused to do before Jan. 6, 2021.
That “new style of lawyer” — pro-Trump, “America First” zealots who think the ultraconservative lawyers bred in the Federalist Society are too soft to carry out their leader’s autocratic call for a “final battle” against traditional democratic governance that he calls “the deep state” — was described, numbingly, by the Times as “more aggressive legal gatekeepers.” Their dangerous antidemocratic mission was blandly outlined as a plan to “take control of the government in a way unseen in presidential history.”
I’m picking on this one article in the Times, and its timid, inoffensive packaging, not because it is unique, but because it is far too typical right now. In one of the most perilous moments of crisis the world has seen in 75 years, and with the basic notions of free speech under assault, most newsrooms aren’t fighting back. They are, instead, pulling their punches in a defensive, “rope-a-dope” crouch, and thus failing to truly inform — when democracy itself is at risk….
We are at war, dammit, literally and figuratively, and we can’t win this fight by hiding in the corner and absorbing the punches.
Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.
At Press Watch, media critic Dan Froomkin makes the sharp move of actually rewriting The Washington Post’s and New York Times’ recent stories about Trump’s plans to become a dictator:
The Post’s word choices were similarly pusillanimous. After describing Trump’s plans to prosecute critics and have the military put down protests, the authors arrived at this whingey conclusion: “Critics have called such ideas dangerous and unconstitutional.”
That’s insufficient. The essential, missing context is: This is how democracies die.
Let me rewrite that for you.
The article by Jonathan Swan, Charlie Savage and Maggie Haberman was eventually headlined: “If Trump Wins, His Allies Want Lawyers Who Will Bless a More Radical Agenda”.
That’s way better than the original headline: “Trump’s Allies Want a New Style of Lawyer if He Returns to Power.” I guess we should be grateful for that.
But neither comes close to telegraphing the truth. Let me rewrite that headline for you: “If Trump Wins, His Allies Want No Obstacles to Dictatorship”.
The Times subhead was “Politically appointed lawyers sometimes frustrated Donald J. Trump’s ambitions. His allies are planning to install more aggressive legal gatekeepers if he regains the White House.”
Let me rewrite that, too: “Politically appointed lawyers sometimes frustrated Donald J. Trump’s ambitions. His allies are planning to install enablers instead.”…
Over the years, I’ve also decried journalistic timidity. “Great political journalism requires the courage to state the obvious,” I wrote in 2019. “Sadly, our access-dependent, approval-seeking, risk-averse, group-thinking elite Washington press corps often doesn’t have the guts.”
At his site Weekend Reading, Michael Podhorzer, who is the former political director of the AFL-CIO and now a Senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, implores the American news media to engage in some long-overdue critical self-reflection:
The media needs to decide whether they are covering this election as if it’s an election like any other, or the election that will decide whether the MAGA movement succeeds in ending American democracy. As long as the media chooses the first option, it is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. …
I’d like to ask members of the media this question directly: If Trump wins – and if he fulfills any of his long list of deranged promises, some of which involve breaking America beyond repair – how do you think history will judge how you covered this election? Will future generations ask whether voters had a good enough idea about how other voters would vote, or would they ask whether voters had a good enough idea of what was in store for them?...
Because of its institutional myopia and other failings, the American mainstream news media is continuing to miss an obvious and critically important aspect of the plans by Trump and the Republican fascists and larger “conservative” movement to end American democracy: This is all being done in public.
The titles and details of these antidemocracy plans such as Agenda 47 and Project 2025 are not beyond top secret or compartmentalized and encrypted code words that require a book cipher or where the documents are burned after reading. These detailed plans to end American democracy are available online, in books about “Project 2025” and discussed on podcasts, Youtube videos, television, and at conferences and other public events. The Trumpists are not hiding in the shadows because, as the world saw on Jan. 6 when Trump’s MAGA attack force overran the Capitol with their faces uncovered and while recording their crimes, they have no plans of being defeated.