Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Late to the Party: Trump and the Press

Okay, I've been meaning to write this for a couple of weeks, ever since the White House revealed that 'hostile' press agencies would no longer be able to attend White House press briefings, but life got in the way.

It was a move quite unprecedented, as far as I'm aware there has never been a moment in American history where the President exiled the press. Indeed the majority of commentary has always pointed towards the relationship between the first and fourth estates being too cosy in the USA. From a British perspective where the press is often too happy to collect politicians' scalps to keep the stories interesting, or honest, the marriage of President and Media has often seemed as if there's too much mutual backwashing going on. This, then, indicates a change in tone, a sea change that will have further ramifications.

The most important thing is to realise that this gambit is actually a freeing one. Without access to the White House, the newspapers and TV stations will be forced to revert to an older practice; digging in the dirt to find their stories and uncovering the bodies that are buried. Basically, if they're looking for a Watergate moment, they now stand a stronger chance of finding it. Divorced from the spin cycle that is the modern news, with the exception of Twitter, they will develop new tools for the modern age to do that oldest of jobs - exhuming the corpses that those in power thought well hidden. There are only so many times that 'fake news' will form a decent rallying cry to rebuff the news stories exposed.

This is not to say it will be easy, we live in an age of leaks, and of supreme cynicism. The recent revelations about the CIA will be met in most quarters with a raised eyebrow and a shrug. Of course it's happening, of course, it's normal procedure. We expect the worst because that's what we've been led to expect. The leak narrative, at least when it takes the form of Wikileaks or Panama Papers is something that has been adapted to. Look at how quickly the Panama Papers died a death and turned out to be a non-story.

The other issue is that the current level of technology we possess makes it harder to be a whistleblower. Even while NASA, the EPA and the Parks Service in America continue to tweet and use other forms of social media in defiance of the Mr. Trump, the fact is that the computers they use for their activities are going to record every transaction and action performed on them. Their email servers will keep copies of every email. Basically, the revolution cannot be digitised without falling into the hands of the powers that be or becoming tainted by the dark net. The powers of the state and business are asymmetrically mighty, compared to the powers of the individual.

What I hope we will see is the return to the sort of investigative journalism practised by Paul Foot in the UK and by the Watergate journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Failing that, a bit of Hunter S Thompson might go a long way.

Or, you know, Spider Jerusalem.