The Pathos of Politics (87-1) The Press continued 1


On a typical day in 1960, all of the front-page stories in the New York Times were uncritically about the US government. Inside were transcripts of official statements and speeches. The press generally reported governmental impropriety only when charges were filed.

The liberal social movements from the late 1960s, including increasingly widespread protests against the Vietnam War, changed the reporting habits of the mainstream press, including the New York Times. The American press metamorphized from toadying to officialdom to interpreting current events, including penetrating analysis.

This continuing institutional evolution was off-putting to conservatives, as disrespectful of authority, and succoring, God forbid, liberality. Arch-conservative Vice President Spiro Agnew, referring to the press in 1970, observed:

In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism. (In 1973, Agnew was investigated for bribery, extortion, conspiracy, and tax fraud. Agnew cut a deal, resigned as vice president, and lived a quiet life thereafter.)

Agnew was at the crest of the wave which has swept away the regard of conservatives for mainstream reportage, with its untoward tendency to critically cover the unsavory aspects of society, including suspected malfeasance by authorities and the rich and powerful, and the press’ readiness to express skepticism about traditional institutions. Conservatives now heartily distrust the “liberal media.”


Knowing that the mainstream press was against him, Donald Trump attempted to discredit them in the broadest possible terms, less than a month after assuming the presidency.

The fake news media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is the enemy of the American People! Sick! ~ Donald Trump

Trump referred to the news media generally as the “opposition party.” This echoed President Richard Nixon before his downfall, who told his national security advisor in late 1972 (but never stated publicly) that “the press is the enemy.”

In trying to destroy the credibility of the press, Trump aimed to undermine democracy itself.

Donald Trump is demonstrating an authoritarian attitude and inclination that shows no understanding of the role of the free press. ~ American journalist Carl Bernstein, who helped uncover the Watergate scandal that brought down President Nixon

The American press failed to aptly respond to Trump’s relentless attack on facts. Instead of reporting his lies as such, the press fawned on Trump’s every utterance, thereby granting his propaganda credibility.

The press has become complicit with Trump by allowing itself to be used as an amplifier for his falsehoods and frames. ~ George Lakoff

Only belatedly was Trump treated by the mainstream press with the scalding he deserved, and even then, punches were pulled in an obscene deference to the office he had managed to swindle.