The Role of the Press in a Truth-Hungry Society

During the presidency of Donald Trump, the notoriety of the press in the U.S. has soared. Throughout this tumultuous presidency, the American public has hungrily waited to hear “what happened” as quickly as possible. However, in a culture that has recently been swept by the mantra of “fake news,” it can be difficult to discern the truth in journalism. 

On April 10, political strategist Stuart Stevens and journalist Vince Bzdek led a talk titled, “Trump and the Press: It’s Worse Than We Think,” in order to discuss the role of the press in an increasingly politically-charged society. They emphasized the journalist’s role to produce “true” news under a president who has repeatedly attacked the press. 

Photo by Joe Keat

Stevens was the chief political strategist for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign and is the current consultant to Bill Weld; libertarian Gary Johnson’s 2016 runningmate. He is an alumnus of Colorado College, graduating in 1970, which was the first year that CC implemented the Block Plan. Since graduating, he has become a distinguished novelist and political nonfiction writer. Much of Stevens’ work is satire on present and past political campaigns. 

Bzdek began the talk by alluding to Stevens’ 2016 novel titled “The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear,” which was published mere days before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Stevens’ book depicts a similar political climate to the Trump campaign’s with Trump-like and Clinton-like characters. While it is a novel, his book more accurately reads as running satirical commentary on the Trump campaign political culture. Using the context of Stevens’ book, Bzdek asked for Stevens’ opinion on the Trump presidency and what role journalists had in depicting the political climate.

According to Stevens, President Trump is the “first candidate since World War II not prepared for the job of sitting at the top of a nuclear command chain” and that President Trump has caused America to “embrace negativism.”

Much of Stevens’ political commentary laments the lost optimism of the American culture. He notes that throughout history, the U.S. had been a highly optimistic country which prided itself on being the best in the world. Moreover, a majority of the American public considered America to be a country that set international precedents, particularly, pioneering the notion for the “freedom of the press.” 

For decades, we have believed the press has had incredible freedom to say whatever it wished about the American political climate. However, with President Trump’s repeated attacks on the press, specifically with his constant mantra of “fake news,” Stevens commented that many journalists have reported “not knowing” what they were supposed to say regarding the Trump presidency, for fear that they would be personally ridiculed by the president. Even so, despite feeling ridiculed, Stevens emphasized that journalists have been doing “extraordinary work” throughout the Trump presidency, and currently big newspapers are as popular as ever among the American public.

A 2016 study titled “Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election” was carried out by The Berkman Kleine Center at Harvard University in order to to analyze different media coverage strategies between the Right and the Left for the 2016 presidential campaign. The study found that the mainstream media coverage was predominantly negative for both candidates. Much of the media coverage for Clinton focused on scandals while much of the coverage for Trump focused on platform values. They also discovered that much of the public’s knowledge about the campaign was acquired through the media-sharing patterns for Trump and Clinton supporters. 

Stevens concluded that much of modern politics are identity politics, meaning that politics have become very personal and people have begun to define themselves according to whichever political ideology they align with. Today, the role of the press in American culture has become an intermediary for how people construct their personal views. 

Ellen Loucks

Ellen Loucks

Ellen Loucks, class of 2021, is majoring in the humanities. She is from Champaign, IL, and is passionate about delivering authentic and reliable news to readers. She intends to pursue a career in writing following college.

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