For those of you who do not know my background, I taught college Communication classes for close to 20-years. One of the classes I developed was Political Communication, which examined U.S. presidential speeches and papers from George Washington’s Farewell Address to Ronald Reagan’s “Take Down This Wall” Berlin speech.
If I were still teaching that course today, I would be asking my students to do a compare and contrast of the speeches by Mr. Trump with those of, let’s say, presidents Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy or Teddy Roosevelt.As I watched last week’s “news conference,” I was amazed at the lack of cohesiveness of Mr. Trump’s opening presentation, though it was not unexpected. Our future president does not speak in straight lines. He was all over the board, almost forgetting to announce his newest Cabinet nominee. And he really did not answer questions directly if they seemed difficult or contrary to his position.
As I watched last week’s “news conference,” I was amazed at the lack of cohesiveness of Mr. Trump’s opening presentation, though it was not unexpected. Our future president does not speak in straight lines. He was all over the board, almost forgetting to announce his newest Cabinet nominee. And he really did not answer questions directly if they seemed difficult or contrary to his position.
These are just some of the reasons I hesitate to watch the President’s inauguration speech on Friday. I will watch, only to see if he sticks to the prepared speech and reads from the teleprompters or speaks off-the-cuff, if only to rally his base with arguably questionable facts and not so veiled innuendos.
His battle with the news media was also quite evident during his responses to questions from reporters. His announcements of CNN as “fake news,” BuzzFeed as “a pile of garbage,” and the BBC as “another beauty” (with a heavy dose of sarcasm) were not-so-vailed attempts to quash any opposition news. It is Trump’s attempt to control the media, not unlike John Adam’s Sedation Act of 1798 and Woodrow Wilson’s Sedation Act of 1918.
I am afraid that the battle between our new president and the press may result in yet another sedation act in the coming years. I also believe that such an act would embolden Missouri and other state legislatures to enact similar laws preventing the open examination of the federal and state governments by an independent Fourth Estate.
I am also concerned that as new justices are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate to federal courts, including the Supreme Court, will severely limit the protections under the First Amendment of a free and open press and the freedom of speech.
Some of you may argue that there was enthusiastic cheers and applause from the audience during the news conference. Yes, but according to former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, the president-elect peppered the audience “with paid staffers who cheered his statements and jeered at reporters.” To my own knowledge, many a politician has “salted” his audiences to make sure that there is a proper reaction to applause lines in a speech; but not a for a press conference.
Reich also claimed that the purpose of having the “support” scattered through the crowd was “to give the impression that the media are divided between those who support [Trump] and those who criticize him.” With this I could not agree more.
The angst between the news media and the Oval Office has not been this bad since the administration of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. It was not just the Watergate investigations and reporting, but the substantiated news reports that the “U.S. Justice Department uncovered widespread evidence of [Vice President Agnew’s] political corruption, including allegations that his practice of accepting bribes [which began when he was the Baltimore County Executive and Governor of Maryland] had continued into his tenure as U.S. vice president.” Between the two situations, both the Vice President and President resigned in disgrace.
To create a greater rift between the Office of the President and the Press, it has been suggested that the White House Press corps may be kicked out of the White House. When asked about this on Sunday morning’s Meet the Press, Mr. Trump’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus would only confirm that the press room may be moved to a different location.
Am I staring into a black crystal ball? I probably am for I see nothing in the future Trump administration that will enhance a free, open and independent press. In fact, I foresee the new administration hamstringing opposition statements and lines of communication only to enhance its own political (and possibly personal and business) objectives.
I believe that media is acutely aware of the problems with their relationship with the new administration and, by extension, the 115th Congress. I do not think that Mr. Trump’s “horse will change colors” the moment he is sworn into office on Friday and he will continue his rampage against the press over the next four years.