I didn’t watch his inauguration, but we must all keep an eye on Trump

There was never more of a need for good journalism than to hold this ‘man toddler’ to account, writes Alison O'Connor.
I didn’t watch his inauguration, but we must all keep an eye on Trump

I did not watch the inauguration of US president Donald Trump last Friday. Certain moments in history are better off not being observed in real time. This was one of those.

It wasn’t about denial; simply disgust at what was occurring. Despite skipping the ceremony, I did spend rest of the weekend glued to presidential-related events. By Monday, I had a severe dose of the Trump bends.

As New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman, put it so eloquently this week: “If you engage with Trump too much, too often, and too closely, he will actually suck your brains out”

So, he’s in now and all bets are off. The Trump miasma hit hard with facts, counter facts, and ‘alternative facts’.

Over those first 48 hours, I consumed top-quality journalism, ranging from ‘legacy’ media to news websites.

On Saturday, I watched the footage from all over the world of the women’s marches, especially from the one in Washington.

After the awfulness of the previous day, it was a sheer delight to witness such a show of international protest.

Only the Trump juggernaut could eclipse such an amazing, mass display of human spirit, as he almost did with his barmy speech to the CIA, in Langley, and the subsequent aggressive and bizarre performance of his press secretary, Sean Spicer, in the White House press room.

I looked to Twitter to reinforce my utter aghastness at the turn of events. It didn’t let me down. I’m not on Facebook, but, if I was, it would, no doubt, have been feeding me stories that match my liberal, anti-Trump bias.

On occasion, I did look at Fox News, to see the down-playing of the numbers on Saturday’s marches or the playing-up of the numbers at the inauguration.

Casting the net wider, to those pro-Trump, conservative US news sites, the contrast was altogether sharper and showed the ever-widening gap between those for and against the man who has just entered the White House for the next four years.

Looking at the US from the outside in, we see an already polarised society with an ever-dwindling middle ground. It is difficult to feel anything other than despair at the scenario.

Politifact, the respected fact-checking website, awarded Spicer a ‘Pants on Fire’ label for his assertions regarding the size of the crowd at the inauguration in Washington.

However, a quick trawl through those sites popular with pro-Trump Facebook users told an altogether different story.

According to their take, Spicer: “Completely destroys dumb lib reporters for running fake news” or that Spicer and Trump had “called out the dishonest media” or the “shameful” media and it was no wonder the mainstream media would now have their access restricted by the White House, because of their fake news smears. Talk about parallel universes.

On the one hand, the internet made possible the magnificent marches which took place on Saturday — they received relatively little mainstream media attention in the run-up, and the word was spread mainly online.

But the internet is also responsible for the spread of the fake news, which was so instrumental to the Trump campaign. Remember that extraordinary fake news story that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of a pizza restaurant?

But as we increasingly see in the Trump era, the truth, now, is decided by your point of view, and your allegiance, as opposed to what the mainstream media is saying. If you’re an ardent Trump fan, the chances are that you pay little, if no attention to the mainstream media, and when you do it’s to read an item which ‘catches them out’ on their prejudices.

Those prejudices are then ramped up by Mr Trump, who said, on Saturday, that reporters are “among the most dishonest human beings on earth”.

There was much criticism of the mainstream media after the US election campaign, and how it had ‘failed’. Really, though, the American public was given as much information as you’d imagine anyone could need on the utter awfulness of Donald Trump. It simply did not care.

Yes, many of those people did choose to ignore these things about Trump. They felt he understood them and was offering an improvement in lives blighted by awfulness, through poverty and unemployment.

They also, sadly, approved of his vision that America should start looking inwards and away from the rest of the world.

There is a school of thought that liberals need to get over themselves, now that he is president, and accept the new reality. But the fact is there was never more of a need for good, well-resourced journalism than to hold this mantoddler to account.

It is a relief to know, for instance, that the New York Times is planning a $5m investment for coverage of the Trump administration. As well as political reporters, the newspaper will be adding more investigative journalists to its ranks, as well as journalists with expertise in particular subjects from taxes and immigration to education and climate change.

The Guardian newspaper has called for the media to join forces in its coverage of Trump. What could be a major positive for the media is the crackdown by the new administration on releasing information.

This should prove a journalistic bonanza. Insiders angered at being gagged will, in all likelihood, start leaking copious amounts of potentially damaging information.

It is difficult to argue with the call for a new level of solidarity and cooperation among the fourth estate.

“American journalists should stop him from dividing their ranks — however hard their professional competition may be. They should do the opposite: unite, share, and collaborate,” went the Guardian’s rallying call this week.

The first, and most obvious, step would be when President Trump tries to single out a reporter, or doesn’t answer a question, the next reporter who’s allowed to speak should repeat the question of the journalist Trump has snubbed.

‘The Panama Papers’ — which lifted the lid on offshore companies used by the super-rich to conceal ownership and control of assets and property — were a formerly unthinkable collaboration that worked really well, with information shared between a team of 400 reporters worldwide.

It is difficult to escape the feeling that it could all be a futile exercise in the face of the Trump steamroller, with its border walls, bans on abortion funding, fantasy voter fraud, and myriad of other lies.

But the stakes are so high that there is little option but to keep trying.

There was never more of a need for good journalism than to hold this ‘man toddler’ to account

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