There has always been tension between the White House and the press corps charged with monitoring the motives and actions of the US president, writes
Over the years, both press secretaries and the press have said that this rigorous, at times combative relationship is healthy and essential, if the country is to remain steadfast in its pursuit of democracy. However, the recent exchange between CNN reporter Jim Acosta and the president, Donald Trump, has exposed an insidious development in that fraught relationship and revealed something unsettling about the times we live in.
Anyone watching Mr Acosta would have seen how passive he was when the over-zealous intern, eager to please her master, grabbed at the microphone to quieten his follow-up questions. In fact, Mr Acosta responded to her repeated lunges with, “pardon me, ma’am”.
However, what has made this exchange so thought-provoking is that Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, quickly posted her own video of the event, which sources now allege was edited to make Mr Acosta’s hand motion appear far more aggressive than it was. Sanders has come under increasing criticism for this post and yet remains dogged in her defence. “The question is: Did the reporter make contact or not? The video is clear, he did. We stand by our statement.” Well, the question should be: Have you knowingly disseminated a doctored video to influence public opinion?
Of course, this is nothing new in politics. Doctored information has been around since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1439. Only a few decades after Nicéphore Niépce created the first photograph, in 1814, photos were being doctored. In fact, Abraham Lincoln’s iconic presidential photograph is said to be a composite of his head and of the southern politician John Calhoun’s body.
In 1964, then US president, Lyndon Johnson, twisted a small skirmish in the Bay of Tolkin to make it look like a far more serious attack. This escalated America’s involvement in Vietnam. But doctoring information while we were all watching illuminates just how dangerous these times of “post truth” are.
You can say or do anything you want and then deny it, or, as is the case with this White House, obfuscate and deflect, until people stop asking, what is going on here?
But there is a reality and it must be addressed. The press secretary tweeted a misleading video from her official account to explain the banning of a journalist from the White House. The revoking of a journalist’s hard pass is not something we should take lightly and the blatant manipulation of information by a senior White House official is something that we should take even less lightly.
When we look at the history of the White House hard press pass, this act is unprecedented. Even Nixon didn’t ban the Washington Post from the White House press briefing room after it broke the Watergate scandal. He only restricted their access. And what did Jim Acosta do? He has been accused of ‘placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as White House intern.’ The insinuation is glaringly obvious here: powerful white male abuses young, powerless female.
In my work as a psychotherapist, I meet many female clients who have had to endure and overcome a very traumatic life event, like being a victim of sexual assault, rape, or domestic abuse.
And I thought of those women as I watched Sarah Sanders attempting to mould an innocuous encounter into something far more sinister.
And I thought of how her actions diminished the experiences of so many of those courageous women, who have had to rebuild their lives again and who fought so vehemently to have their voices heard. When someone makes a false allegation or bends the truth to suit a twisted agenda, the trail of destruction they leave is unfathomable.
They not only devalue someone’s lived experience, but they also make a future disclosure more unlikely. And that is what this recent exchange in the White House has brought into focus for me, and why it is so reprehensible. She owes an apology to women everywhere who have been assaulted.
Of course, Trump feels like the press is against him. And the press has to look at how it is conducting itself in those exchanges, too.
As consumers of information, we are no longer receiving hard news, but rather small bite-size bits of news perfect for tweeting.
We have become 140 characters or less. Jim Acosta’s profile has reached zenith levels.
Public interest feeds the media, so we are responsible for the type of information we receive. Where are the detailed and probing questions that Obama faced?
I saw a sign in NYC recently that read: “Oswald, where are you now, your country needs you?” It seems like everything is out of control.
It reminds me of the last days of Macbeth’s reign. There is no light. Everyone is for themselves. And it all “signifies nothing”.
- Richard Hogan is clinical director of therapyinstitute.ie, a school teacher, systemic family psychotherapist, and father of three. If you have a question, contact firstname.lastname@example.org