THE PRESIDENT of the United States has a weakness when it comes to his self-image; he’s demonstrated time and again just how fragile his pride can be when a media outlet runs an unflattering story about him. Which, in 2018, is daily. And while his normal response is to blast back with an angry tweet, his recent suggestion that America start a government-run news agency that reports only great things about our nation is a little closer to Orwellian waters than we care to sail in.
On Monday, President Donald Trump fired off a tweet targeting CNN. So far, nothing new. It was the follow-up tweet that included the suggestion for a state news agency. Here’s what he wrote:
“While CNN doesn’t do great in the United States based on ratings, outside of the U.S. they have very little competition. Throughout the world, CNN has a powerful voice portraying the United States in an unfair . . . and false way. Something has to be done, including the possibility of the United States starting our own Worldwide Network to show the World the way we really are, GREAT!”
And what exactly would we call this new worldwide network? All the great names like CCTV, RIA Novosti and KCNA are all taken. We’d argue there’s hardly enough news, positive or otherwise, to fill a private 24-hour channel. That’s how we end up with a network like MSNBC, which fills its days with the latest coverage and exhaustive analysis on whatever our president recently did wrong in its eyes.
What’s really at the core of this idea? Does America need a government-run news agency to show the world how great it is, or does the current occupant of the Oval Office need a platform constantly showering him with praise? Because if it’s the latter, we already have that. It’s called Fox News.
And for the American point of view for foreign eyes and ears, we have Voice of America.
Our Founding Fathers knew how important an independent press was. That’s why in 1776, governing bodies like the Virginia colonial legislature passed a declaration of rights that read, “The freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.”
One can even make the suggestion based on a glance at history that American presidents aren’t supposed to be best friends with the independent press. That certainly wasn’t the case for Thomas Jefferson, who often wrote personal letters admonishing the press of his day. While he understood newspapers’ importance to democracy, President Jefferson hardly made an effort to hide his annoyance with some coverage of his time in office.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting a direct line of communication with the people. But isn’t that what President Trump has a Twitter account for?