Originally published in Paste Magazine.
Photo by Adam Berry/Getty
If you’re like many Americans, you’ve probably fallen into a rut of inactive discontent since the election. The first couple of weeks, before the Electoral College met and said, “Nah, this is definitely happening,” there were opinionated think pieces written and marches happening across the country. People were sure that their voices would be heard, but over the last few weeks, everyone’s quieted down. Maybe this is because we had to rein it in during holiday festivities with the family, or more likely, it’s probably because keeping up with what’s been happening has been downright exhausting.
From openly racist cabinet nominees to late night tweet storms, we may not be cool with what’s happening, but nothing really surprises us about Trump & Co. anymore. Did people see the repeal of the Affordable Care Act coming from a mile away? Of course. In fact, people are surprised that it’s taken this long to get the ball rolling on the defunding of Planned Parenthood as well. Yeah, people are pissed off, but so many have become jaded reading the news, just counting down the days until this guy’s out of the White House-1,459, to be exact. It’s not uncommon to read a headline that would seem downright ridiculous in any other administration, sigh, and click on to the next puppy video. This is because a puppy video doesn’t stir up reminders of pussy grabbing or giant walls.
That is, until #goldenshowergate broke.
People who had been brushing off Donald Trump’s antics as something that we’re just going to get used to couldn’t resist the tempting hashtag on Twitter. While the information came from a 35-page unverified report released by BuzzFeed, detailing Trump’s alleged ties to Russia, there is no denying that the raunchy material is what the masses really grabbed on to. The unsubstantiated story of how Trump allegedly hired prostitutes to urinate on a bed in the Moscow Ritz Carlton, due to the fact that Mr. Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama had once slept there, spread like wildfire.
Sure, it’s funny. There’s a lot of material to work with. A lot of material to work with. We can’t resist a salacious story, and the petty nature of this allegation takes the humor to the next level. But, as BuzzFeed pointed out in the original article, these reports were unverified and everything contained in the report should be taken with a very large grain of salt. In fact, one can argue that the story itself wasn’t the contents of the dossier, but the fact that it exists, and has for months.
Since Trump is our president-elect and is to be held in higher esteem than say, R. Kelly, this potentially untrue story would have eventually faded into the background within the week. That is, had the flames not been stoked in yet another 4:00 AM Twitter rant comparing the intelligence community to Nazi Germany, and again at his first official press conference in six months the next day. This scandal is certainly worthy of Scandal’s Olivia Pope, and it most definitely got America paying attention again for the first time in weeks. This shouldn’t have to be said, but in a post-2016 world, nothing is too outrageous anymore but, IT SHOULDN’T TAKE PEE TO GET US TO READ THE NEWS. But it did, and that’s a good thing.
The Press Is at Risk
The report had made its rounds in Washington D.C. and ended up on the desks of editors across the country, but news outlets weren’t about to take the story on.
The fact that there were no verified sources and no actual proof that anything in all 35 pages was even vaguely true made Buzzfeed’s move risky. Since the term “fake news” has been tossed around left and right, describing anything from legitimate fabricated stories to articles that Trump didn’t like, publications like the New York Times felt it best to stay away. Some think BuzzFeed’s decision was unethical, while others feel like the public had the right to know the contents of the intelligence report. Whatever your feelings, it was truly a daring move in a climate that’s so critical of the media.
Trump has been outspoken time and time again about his distaste for the media, despite clearly loving the attention. He infamously said that he’s “going to open up libel laws” so journalists who published “negative and horrible and false” articles could be sued. Though “opening up libel laws” isn’t actually a thing-not to mention that whole freedom of the press issue-the press isn’t out of the woods. As we’ve learned from Pete Thiel’s successful attempt to bankrupt Gawker, a lot of money-which Trump has-can get you your way. While Trump likely won’t attempt to shut down the press while he’s in office, he’s already taken to his petty ways to “get back” at certain publications for treating him poorly.
Newsweek spoke with Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN American Center, and she told the publication, “If the campaign and his past history are indication, this will be a president who is dismissive of the role of the press. Accusatory. Punitive in his treatment of journalists. Arbitrary. Secretive when he wants to be.”
Not only did Trump play hot and cold with a number of reputable news outlets, denying them entrance to rallies and refusing to speak with reporters on his current blacklist, but after winning the election, he hosted that off-the-record meeting with head anchors and TV news execs. Under the guise of clearing the air, Trump went on to berate top talent, from Lester Holt to Martha Raddatz to Charlie Rose, for their coverage of him, according the New York Magazine. An unnamed source at the meeting even compared it to a firing squad. Trump kicked that meeting off by telling the head of CNN that he hates the network. This was made apparent at his press conference on Jan. 11 when he refused to take questions from CNN reporter Jim Acosta, telling him that his organization is terrible and accusing him of being fake news.
What Can We Do?
Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep asking questions and demand they be answered. Don’t let your defeated attitude stop you from knowing what’s happening in the world around you. The role of the press is an important one, and always has been. The general public does not get the privilege to speak with people like the President of the United States and other high-ranking officials, even though the decisions made at this level have a huge impact on the lives of everyone. It’s the press’s responsibility to bridge the gap between the public and the government.
Despite the obvious roadblocks ahead, and the stories we’re going to hear that we surely won’t be happy about, we need to make sure that we don’t let complacency and “IDGAF anymore” attitudes take over. We need to know what policies Trump tries to pass that threaten our rights or the rights of fellow Americans. We need to know who he’s appointing to government positions and what their histories are and where their investments are. There is no way to stop what we don’t know and stand up for what’s right. Support your trusted news sources and keep fighting the good fight.