If a large section of the public has been convinced by people who spin the web of fiction that those in charge of laying bare the truth are really liars producing Fake News, it is because reporters allowed the spin-doctors direct access to citizens. The Gate Keepers stopped keeping the gate nearly 30 years ago. This worked well when those in power pretended to play by the rules but Team-Trump have thrown the rule book out the window.
When the First Gulf War came along in 1990 – 1991, CNN inaugurated a cheap way to attract audiences, fill air time and increase publicity revenues : the live broadcast of the press conference. The technique gave the public the impression of “being there” but in reality what the ‘live press conference broadcast’ did was to do away with the reporter’s role as filter, giving spin-doctors direct access to the public. The reporter was left holding the microphone and trying to clean up afterwards when nobody was listening any more.
We all remember the NATO press conference claiming the ‘good guys’ bombed a “chemical factory” outside Bagdad. By the time Peter Arnett got there to say the Iraqis were telling the truth when they said the factory was producing powdered-milk for babies, nobody was listening any more. The news cycle had moved on with new live press conferences. The same for the “command and control center” the US bombed which turns out to be a bomb shelter where hundreds of men, women and children lost their lives, and on and on and on.
That media giants, allowed to concentrate and grow under Bill Clinton, want to cut costs to increase profit at the price of journalistic integrity should not be surprising. That reporters belly-ache because Team-Trump is taking advantage of the tradition is pure hypocrisy.
In President Trump’s first week in office, CNN reversed the tradition it began by refusing to broadcast live White House press conferences. The White House, eager to maintain direct access to the public, is responding by favoring other news outlets. So goes the new war between the First and the Fourth Estates.
If the press want a shot at winning this war, they will have to adopt CNN’s new strategy, sit in on Team-Trump’s conferences without live broadcasts, and play the role of the filter the press was always supposed to be, in the hopes most people will come back, wanting to know the difference between “The Facts” and “ Alternative Facts.”
Team-Trump have lots of arguments to discredit the mainstream press, not all of them false – arguments reinforced by an obvious anti-Trump bias which also attacked, rather than informed, those Hilary Clinton called “the deplorables.”
The French faced a similar dilemma in 2007 when the ‘hyper-president,’ Nicolas Sarkozy, was elected. By the time the media got around to reporting and analyzing what he had said or done, the ‘hyper-president’ had said or done seven other things. In October 2007, the daily Libération proposed to fellow reporters that they stop reporting what Sarkozy was doing and start analyzing what he had done.
We don’t have to go to such extremes. We just need to ignore the press conference. No more live broadcasts of spin-doctors with direct, unfiltered, access to the public. People expect reporters to work for a living making news accessible and comprehensible in a concise and contextualized form while they work for their livings. At some point people will begin to pay a attention.