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  • Writer's pictureNancy Dafoe

Taking the Bait of the Insidious Worm

We want to champion journalists and their work. Ethical, professional journalists may be our last, best hope for preserving our democracy. Yet…

Everyone with working brain matter knows FOX News is anything but news, FOX brand now synonymous with right-wing propaganda. We have seen how Donald J. Trump has unfairly demonized legitimate news sources, calling the best news makers “Fake News” and “enemies of the people.” Make no mistake, these actions and Trump words are very real threats to our democracy and have eroded public trust in the very institutions set up to protect the rights of the people.

Yet, as much as we want to defend professional journalists, recognize their sacrifices and integrity, there is increasing knowledge of the inroads made by the worm. The worm that is eating the insides of those very news organizations we depend upon as the Fourth Estate.

A recent Associated Press (AP) story ran the headline: “Trump handicaps 2020 Democratic contenders.” The article reads, “He’s eager to shape the debate, sow discord and help position himself for the general election. It’s just one more norm to shatter, and a risky bet that his acerbic politics will work to his advantage once again.” Stop and ask yourself why this is a major news story that is appearing all over the country? How does the subject matter not so subtly disadvantage Democrats and give an inherent advantage to the perpetually media-hungry Trump? Another headline stated: “Trump picks nicknames for opponents.” The problem is the attention the story and headline draw to the man for less than newsworthy reasons.

The very news organizations Trump attacks are the ones he seeks out continuously, creating a permanent, free ad campaign for himself and his brand at the same time media outlets are enriched by readers. Whether those readers are pro-Trump or outraged readers calling for a better discourse, the results are the same: more money for news outlets and more attention for Trump. The AP ran a non-story, Trump campaign gets a blast once again. Why? The simple answer is money. Trump draws readers to media sources every time they cover him.

We are able to hear the editorial team arguing, “Why should we run this garbage story?”

“Because people will read it and buy papers?”

“Shouldn’t we have more integrity than that?”

“Since when are you opposed to us making money and continuing to pay your salary?”

Dead silence in the editors’ room.

Meanwhile, U.S. News & World Report runs the headline cover: “The Trump Presidency: A Success Story,” forever losing credibility as a reliable news outlet but gaining readers.

Even media outlets such as CNN, that Trump has targeted for their criticism of him, have run headline after headline that smacks of Trump flattery: “How Trump has changed the world in one year,” “Trump’s job numbers were very, very good.” CNN also recently made the disturbing move of hiring GOP operative Sarah Isgur to “,edit and guide the 2020 Presidential election coverage.” Hiring the biased Trump pundit to the great dismay of the CNN news staff only further diminishes public confidence in news organizations. According to a reporter at the Daily Beast, “CNN staffers are upset and confused about the network’s decision to hire a partisan political operative to oversee its 2020 campaign reporting.”

When the news corporation personnel start losing confidence in their messaging, it becomes even harder for anyone outside the media bubble to have trust in the honesty, fairness, and intentions behind the words.

The Washington Post came up with the Pinocchio count to try to keep track of Trump’s bold-faced lies. Yet, even when tracking his numerous lies, the newspaper used a softening agent, ameliorating language, as substitute for the lie: the Pinocchio. And who among us does not have a tender spot for the wooden little puppet who wanted to be a real boy? While there is some bitter irony involved in the play on words (think “puppet”), the overall effect of the Pinocchio as applied to Trump make him seem somehow more endearing than he or we deserve. No, thank you, WAPO, for that moniker.

While journalists and their editors and newspaper owners are well aware of how Trump, his pundits, and his other sycophants are using them, managing news personnel appear either unwilling or unable to stop taking the Trump junk bait.

Even a cursory examination of news coverage of the last three years will demonstrate the dominance of Trump-heavy headlines, stories, and bias toward all things Trump. These phenomena are not solely related to Trump’s position as a likely illegitimate president. Past American Presidents often struggled to get their ideas and agendas out in the news. With Trump, his every Tweet and snicker, his lies and other grotesqueries are all front and center of our American lives due to this incessant media coverage.

When the conman at the center of our American political scene and in our highest office in the land finally passes away, we will be left with permanent rifts caused by the parasite eating us from within, and we know the name of that insidious worm now. It is corruptible greed.

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