News is changing at an alarming rate. The way we consume information is always shifting with time and technology. But since President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, “news” has become a topic of contention and speculation. The true motive of media is constantly being dissected. Google Trends shows that “fake news” has been searched at a disproportionately high rate since Sept. 2016, with terms “Trump fake news” and “Trump news” leading the inquiries. No matter our personal political stance, Americans must face the fact that the old practices and guidelines of news are rapidly shifting around us.
Recently, Trump has declined the historic invitation to the White House correspondents’ dinner. CNN called this, “a move that comes amid increasingly hostile relations between the media and the White House.” Even the briefest tune-in to news in the past two months will show Trump’s heated relationship with the media at large. Claims of “fake news” and unfair journalism are quick to the president’s tongue. He often posts about the declared issue on Twitter and mentions it during speeches at various events.
In case you missed it, Trump tweeted on Feb. 25, “I will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!” This motion has already been widely reported though the event is still two months away. The traditional dinner event, established in 1921, benefits college students in journalism programs. Trump’s refusal to attend, paired with the dinner’s charitable intention and popularity, reads like a calculated move against the media establishment Trump is so displeased with.
The last president to miss the dinner was former President Ronald Reagan, who was in recovery from an attempted assassination that left him with a gunshot wound. Reagan, as many other news sources are pointing out, still phoned into the event with prepared remarks.
Though Trump still has the chance to make his voice heard over telephone, there is doubt over whether he will bother. This is exactly the sort of move that Trump prides himself in — working outside the establishment, breaking norms and changing the status quo of politicians in office.
The publicity of the event has been contested in recent years for its overhyped entertainment quality. Opposition to the event claims that popular guests and entertainment displays take too much of the spotlight from the cause. The dinner has always been open to entertainment — historically, in the mode of singers and film. A comedy performance has become the recently popular choice. Despite this lighthearted display of humor, the correspondents’ dinner remains a highlight for the future of journalism in the U.S. and beyond. The 2016 dinner awarded 18 scholarships to journalism students across the country and the dinner is meant as a moment of appreciation for news sources.
That appreciation seems like an elephant in the room when considered alongside Trump’s remarks that news in the U.S. is failing to do its job. The White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, has been sometimes combative with the media as well. On Feb. 24, Spicer held an off-camera, but on-record conference with some reporters. Oddly enough, he barred several outlets from attending the meeting — including reporters from The New York Times, The Associated Press, Politico and The Hill. It has been noted that supportive, right-wing news outlets were allowed to attend. Though audio recording of this conference was circulated to those who could not attend, some news outlets have refused the information because their reporters were shut out.
This incident perfectly represents the criticism of the media today. Trump calls the news anything from fake to disgusting on a near daily basis. He dislikes the use of anonymous tips and sources, which has long been a source of content for journalists. Spicer has been shaking up the traditional protocol of who he takes questions from during press conferences, allowing some smaller outlets to ask before larger, well-known sources.
This is not inherently bad, as Spicer is free to choose as he wishes from the room full of reporters. Further, Trump is free to criticize. But this fierce insistence that “fake news” is a rampant problem in our country should not be countered by shutting out and defaming news outlets simply because they disagree with Trump’s actions or attitudes. “Fake news” is not the same thing as “news that opposes Trump.” Likewise, forgoing traditional events such as the White House correspondents’ dinner may not be as effective a strategy as it may seem. Rather, it is just another unfriendly cold shoulder to the news establishment and a missed opportunity for Trump to extend some kindness to an unsteady nation.
Together, Trump and Spicer are working to dismantle any public trust in the media that may remain after a tumultuous election cycle in 2016. Despite backlash from the president and incidents interpreted as an attack on free speech, many journalists and news organizations are publicly announcing their intent to continue reporting in our increasingly chaotic realm of news.