My first encounter with the press was an interview about my graduation from college. The interview was more a celebration of an accomplishment that superseded expectations.
The second encounter took the form of press releases offered to a local newspaper after meetings of a barrio education committee advocating support for issues raised by Chicano students in area high schools. It was the time of the Chicano Movement and the young people were caught up in school blowouts designed to make their point.
The concern then was for the media to provide a balanced view of these matters in a time when they were the only ones that could effectively present these social and political issues to the general public. It was expected that given the chance, the media could be an honest broker in portraying the human condition of groups afflicted by gross inequality.
Most of us understood the value of a free press and its role as the guarantor of a free society. Our national models in this regard were media figures that went out of their way to find and reveal truth using a code of ethics learned as part of their professional training.
This was particularly important at the time, given the epic contest between the United States and the Soviet Union. Using the media for inappropriate purposes was the great temptation that differentiated national propaganda machines from a free press.
The misuse of the press can sometimes be called “yellow journalism,” a term associated with Joseph Pulitzer and William Randal Hearst at the turn of the 20th Century. “Yellow Journalism presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers and other techniques that include exaggeration of news events, scandal-mongering or sensationalism.”
Even more dangerous is the “big lie” that can define evil as good and good as evil depending on the point of view. The advent of competition of cable news channels provides an excellent example of how some of these entities have tied themselves to particular social and political philosophies as a way of gathering audiences.
Propaganda as an element of political power used by strong men around the world is now appearing--especially cable news outlets committed to one way of thinking or another. This makes them vulnerable to the whims of dictatorial types that seek to control political points of view in America.
President Trump’s use of Twitter as a headline approach to attacking others is a prime example of the decadence of expression by the powerful. The fact that he uses these tools and others to attack a free press is even more dangerous as the national media finds itself very vulnerable because of its own misdeeds.
What was once the domain of the Soviet Union and other dictatorships around the world is now threatening to become a part of the American media. An effective attack on the freedom of the press here is the first step in controlling what is newsworthy.
These attacks have indeed affected the freedom of individuals to be who they are. In Russia, President Putin has taken steps to destroy the independence of the press and in doing so has made sure that he can dictate opinion to his people.
Donald Trump is attempting to do the same with a level of success that allows him to dominate the news cycle in the country at his discretion. Is the next step to have the press reflect his world view?.