“Alternative facts” is a term that characterizes the euphemisms and falsehoods that cloud President Trump’s White House.The phrase has become widely mocked and harshly criticized since it was first used by Kellyanne Conway in an interview defending Press Secretary Sean Spicer and his false inflation of the number of people at Donald Trump’s inauguration. Many view the “alternative facts” gaffe as the quintessential new standard for the White House, and some have even dubbed it the “perfect euphemism for the Age of Trump.”
The debacle surrounding the phrase dramatically increased the sales of George Orwell’s 1984, a dystopian novel about a society plagued by war, omnipresent government surveillance, and widespread manipulation of the public. Orwell’s dystopian world depicts the extent of the damage that political corruption and lies, such as those possibly emerging from the era of Alternative Facts. Such analogies also highlight some people’s fears that the Trump administration could engage in manipulating facts and expressing falsehoods.
This was only the beginning of Trump’s rocky relationship with the media. There have been more incidents with twisted truths and confusing statements, each inciting mistrust and doubt in the new government. Trump has started to implement measures to dampen the press’s criticism. He condemns the press, going so far as to call newspapers such as The New York Times “so evil and so bad.” In one instance, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus threatened to move the daily press briefing room out of the White House and into a separate office building, which would have led to a disconnect between his administration and the press.
While it seems implausible that government censorship of the press will emerge in the United States, the long-standing model for democracy and freedom, threats to a free and independent press should not be overlooked. Reporters could begin to avoid stories because they don’t want to draw negative attention from the president, who could ruin their reputations or start a federal leak investigation. Reporting on certain stories could also cause publicly funded media outlets to lose their funding. Pressure on journalism is not solely limited to the Trump administration, however; former President Obama had one of the strictest reporting and leak policies in recent times. Nevertheless, Trump strays beyond the previous administration’s tough rules and could engage in a “war on journalism” that humiliates and degrades the press. While reporters under Obama were careful not to step too far out of line, nowadays their integrity and reputations can be attacked with every unfavorable news story.
Shortly after the new president took office, one instance of attempted government censorship occurred.
On Jan. 24, Republican Representative Lamar Smith ended a speech with a shot at the press, “Better to get your news directly from the president. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.” Rick Casey, a reporter for the The San Antonio Express-News, compared this to the North Korean news policy. Next, Smith called the station. After the phone call, the chief executive removed the story for fear that funding would be cut. Protest from several news outlets across the state quickly brought the matter to light, and it was resolved. Nevertheless, this fiasco damaged some reporters’ confidence in the freedom of press and their ability to voice their opinion without being punished.
Recently, the White House Press Secretary barred the New York Times and several other news organizations from attending daily briefings. This was a somewhat damaging start of what could become a breach of relationships between the White House and the press. Trump took to Twitter, justifying his actions by arguing that “fake news media knowingly doesn’t tell the truth.”
In a recent interview, George W. Bush reasonably criticized the current President: “I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy. We need an independent media to hold people like me to account. Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive and it’s important for the media to call into account people who abuse their power.” Alternative facts and censorship, the symbols of the Trump presidency thus far, have taken stabs at the sacred freedom of the press and scarred the integrity of the White House. It is important to maintain this freedom in order to keep the democratic basis upon which this country was founded.