After working for more then 20 years for various news organizations, I am now finally happy where I am working for myself. I never worked from a newsroom, but for many years I reported, wrote, spoke, and contributed to the newsroom. And, cursed a lot. Because even if you worked below the radar like I did, the editors in the newsroom still give you a hard time. Always. Their expectations, ignorance about the places written about, and preconceived notions of the elements that build a good story make journalism a headache sometimes.
When the industry’s crisis began editors started to unload the stress, they had from their bosses, publishers, and marketing folks onto us, the reporters. I am not talking about censorship. None of my stories ever got changed or refused once I was assigned a news story. It has always been about the mindset of editors, and their incomprehensive concern for me was about what kind of readers might or might not like the story. In the end, it was all about the clicks. This is likely the moment where everyone who reveres reporting and writing should leave news organizations and start doing something on their own. The whole internet business-glory to the new and better-educated generations when it happens has turned the newsrooms that are most successful into a desperate hunt for clicks and has forgotten one fundamental thing. Those clicks are coming from the people that we were striving to inform and to enlighten as a part of our mission. Now that they have their computers and keyboards that allowed them to click and scribble, these same people are ordering us what we are supposed to write and report? No! Never. Especially when the click translates into a request that comes from editors asking for more juicy, entertaining stories.
I’m not saying that all editors have lost their heads in search for a new and more adequate business model in the digital era. Not. I have had some great editors within my newsrooms, and I know some great ones that I am friends with. I still learn from them to this day. My reaction to editors is similar to my response to the last and current president. I like the previous one, and I hate the present one – especially since he claims that I am an enemy of the people. I also hate President Trump because he has put me back into the position I was trying to desperately break away from. He has submerged me back into the click bait journalist and media crowd that is dragging me back into the old mindset of corporate reporting and conformism, risking to lose my voice again. I have become an enemy of the people and feels very tight in straightjacket president put on me.
This world is weird. When you look around you can see faces and hear voices you never expected to defend you. But they do, now that Trump has blacklisted you and dipped you into the corporate world again.
“I hate the press. I hate you especially. But the fact is I; we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital. If you want to preserve– I’m very serious now– If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.” This is how John McCain, a conservative Republican and Vietnam War veteran, answered Chuck Todd during Meet the Press when he was asked about Trump calling press the enemy of the people. The world seemed to have gone nuts, but just for a second, until I remembered that in last year’s primaries Donald Trump said that John McCain should not be described as a “war hero,” despite spending more than five years as a prisoner of war. In Trump’s mind, McCain did not deserve to be called a hero because he survived, while he should be dead, like all the enemies of humankind deserve to be. So McCain defended the press because hates Trump offending him. He’s obviously a kind guy who enjoys the life. I do too, Mr. President.
The second unexpected voice that came into my defense was a retired Adm. William McRaven, who led the Joint Special Operations Command: “The president said the news media is the enemy of the American people.This sentiment may be the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.” Holy cow! Special forces general? A former Navy Seal? Those silent guys that never talk? They train their whole life; then they go in to capture or kill! The same McRaven that was the architect of the raid in the northern Pakistani city of Abbottabad during which Osama bin Laden was killed!
We all knew what was coming. After being elected, Trump started to accumulate disturbing encounters with the media; he was trying to govern with the stick and carrot policy even before he took office. I tried to boost the moral of the lamenting and offended media that was moaning over the president-elect’s behavior, requesting the restitution of honor and respect. I announced hard times, but also proudly boasted the power the media has in confronting narcissistic authoritarian leaders.
Then it happened. President’s Trump first press conference in the White House was a famous rant as David Remnick describes it:
Then came his press conference, last week, his first solo press conference in office, and it was epochal. Ostensibly an occasion to announce a replacement appointment to the Department of Labor after the first had to step aside, Trump instead took it upon himself to denounce repeatedly and at length the sinful, dishonest press and the “very fake news” it produces. It was unforgettable. With all his nastiness, his self-admiring interruptions and commands (“Sit down! Sit down!”) Trump resembled an oversauced guy at a bar who was facing three likely options in the near term: a) take a swing at someone, b) get clocked by someone else, or c) pass out and wake up on a hard, alien cot.
But the venue was not a bar. It was the White House, and this was hardly a joke. What Trump resembled at the lectern was an old-fashioned autocrat wielding a very familiar rhetorical strategy.
It was the day the media was declared the enemy of the people. It happened before in the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, Remnick reminds, followed by the loop to Robespierre who justified Jacobin’s Reign of Terror by saying that “Revolutionary government owes to the good citizen all the protection of the nation. It owes nothing to the Enemies of the People but death.”
If President Trump is not reading much, his chief strategist Steve Bannon is an avid reader. He understands the pulse of the nation as much as his boss feels it with his intuition. In a surprise public appearance, his first after he started to work in the White House, Bannon addressed the issue of an enemy of the people, reported the Washington Post:
“They’re going to continue to fight,” Bannon said of the media, which he repeatedly described as “the opposition party,” and other forces he sees as standing in the president’s way. “If you think they are giving you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken… They are corporatist, globalist media that are adamantly opposed to an economic nationalism agenda like Donald Trump has.”
Bannon also remarked, “If you look at the opposition party and how they portrayed the campaign and how they portrayed the transition and how they portray the administration, it’s always wrong.”
Bannon also feels that this regime change is the deconstruction of outdated governance, and longs to build a new world order based on the ideology of so-called economic nationalism. What does that even mean? But, what Bannon was clear about was that the media is one of the premier globalist forces rowing against the new regime. A stimmate. The enemy.
A few days ago the New York Times published an interesting homage to Bernard Fall, “the journalist who 50 years ago stepped on a landmine while accompanying Marines on a mission near Hue, in South Vietnam. He died instantly. He was 40 years old.”
He was a man who knew the war, wrote Fredrik Logevall quoting Fall: “In revolutionary war, the allegiance of the civilian population becomes one of the most vital objectives of the whole struggle. This is indeed the key message that Trinquier (the French military theorist) seeks to impress upon his reader: Military tactics and hardware are all well and good, but they are quite useless if one has lost the confidence of the population among whom one is fighting.”
Fall wrote his observations in the early stage of the American war in Vietnam, and also of his experience with the French colonial war in the area. He predicted the failures of France and the United States in the Vietnam War because of their tactics and lack of understanding of the societies. But Washington did not read his book which Colin Powell mentioned in his My American Journey: “I recently reread Bernard Fall’s book on Vietnam, Street Without Joy. Fall makes painfully clear that we had almost no understanding of what we had gotten ourselves into. I cannot help thinking that if President Kennedy or President Johnson had spent a quiet weekend at Camp David reading that perceptive book, they would have returned to the White House Monday morning and immediately started to figure out a way to extricate ourselves from the quicksand of Vietnam.”
Why Bernard Fall? Because of the fierce attacks of this president on the media, declaring them his enemy and the enemy of the people. The horrific Vietnam War trained and elevated American investigative journalism and war reporting to a level of excellence. People like Bernard Fall, Michael Herr, and many others, including many photographers and fiction writers as Graham Greene and John Steinbeck, served as a model to those who complain that journalism today is under attack and should be protected. What is happening in the United States today is similar to what was going on in Vietnam. It started with an idea to change the regime, stop communism, and to drain the swamp of it. It did not work either with napalm or Agent Orange. There is Fall’s lesson to learn when we try to reverse this latest push towards unknown but authoritarian adventure, this time on the home front. I can wear the uniform President Trump put on me, but only for a short time, until we figure out where this cart is driving us.