Last week after President Trump called the media “the enemy of the people” he was compared to Joseph Stalin, who first used that term. That’s a horrific comparison that’s thankfully never been leveled at a commander-in-chief, as historians tell us Stalin killed more innocent people than Adolph Hitler. But pundits are making another comparison that really deserves our attention; comparing POTUS with Richard M. Nixon, the 37th President. Most claim that Trump has the same acerbic relationship with the press as Nixon did.
This is true, but there are some important differences that can help us understand why we love to hate this president.
Nixon hated the media, but he needed it desperately the way most men who have a victim-mentality need an opponent. We all need someone to blame for our mistakes some of the time. Unfortunately for Nixon, TV came of age during his career, and the press morphed into the an undeniable powerhouse called “the media.”
Nixon made hating the new behemoth a full-time job. You can still watch the first televised Presidential debates, where Nixon looks lost and haggard alongside the young, handsome JFK. You can still watch the televised new conference where Nixon stated, “I don’t hate the press, because you can only hate what you have respect for and I have no respect for you….”
Nixon became the president everyone loved to hate. Cold, untrustworthy, was how the media dubbed “Tricky Dicky.” President Washington couldn’t tell a lie. President Nixon couldn’t’ tell the truth. And the media hated him the same way it hates the Donald. Right?
No. not really.
There are some important differences between these deeply conflicted men. Nixon was a total disaster as a TV personality. He blamed the media for his inability to come across as trustworthy. Trump’s a genius at manipulating the electorate through social media. He doesn’t see himself as a whipping boy, but as a savior who bans all negative reportage about his administration as “fake news.”
And that’s our problem. The media is biased. And Trump’s genius is at exploiting that bias to his advantage. His supporters credit him with pulling back the veil on a once sacrosanct establishment and showing us the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. Let’s face it. Fake news has been around for a lot longer than most people want to believe. It existed back in the early sixties when TV came of age,–and over the years we’ve witnessed the news change from a dedication to the facts, to a dumbed-down hybrid of what many are calling “factual entertainment.”
So, was Nixon right? No. After all, didn’t his downfall came with the daring and honest reportage of two journalists named Woodward and Bernstein. But the truth is all reporters are human, and therefore flawed. Times have changed. Do you really want to compare Matt Lauer with Walter Cronkite? Or Brian Williams with Edward R. Murrow? Do you remember Jason Blair? He cut a few corners when it came to reporting the truth. How about that reporter for the Washington Post who made up an entire story and won a Pulitzer prize? Her name was Janet Cooke.
Times have changed…teenage YouTube stars have more followers than U.S. Senators. Young people have difficulty telling the difference between reality and reality TV; the check-and-balance system that protects our democracy works because we can just vote people off the reality show this administration has become. Right? The system works. But few understand how before the internet “facts” had to be checked; sources confirmed.
We’re all afraid of the truth, sometimes. And we can’t look away from the train-wreck this administration has become (Is it possible, that some of us are thinking those vile things the President is saying?) We need to step back and see what we’re dealing with isn’t a madman in the oval office, but a brilliant tyrant who, like Nixon, will make anyone who disagrees with him an enemy of the people.