“Journalism is printing what somebody else does not want printing, everything else is public relations”, a sentiment that the apparent “steaming pile of garbage” Buzzfeed discovered very publically last week. After publishing a 35 page, unverified document containing compromising alleged information about Donald Trump’s personal life, they were told that “they are going to face the consequences.”
Rather than counter this threat, journalists have turned on one another, debating the rights and wrongs of publishing these files, leaving the President-Elect on some bizarre moral high-ground, and apparently free to threaten the closure of any organisation that is critical of him.
This is a horrifically dangerous precedent. Trump’s attempts to undermine or restrict the freedom of the press is as threatening to democracy as the forced removal of Senators from Congress or the dismantling of the Supreme Court. To all intents and purposes, journalism is the fourth estate of the government. Along with Congress and the Supreme Court journalists work to hold the President to account. In theory, the Presidency should not be able to make any decision without their support.
I will be the first to admit that journalism has its faults, but it also ensures that governments and other public organisations are not free to do as they please.
In 2009, the Daily Telegraph revealed that MPs had been playing with their expenses, using public money to pay for moats around their houses and luxury duck accommodation. Even the phone hacking at the News of the World that caused so much distrust was uncovered thanks to a year of investigations by the Guardian.
In 2002, the Boston Globe uncovered the extensive sexual abuse of children by members of the Catholic Church, and in The 1970s, extensive investigation by the Washington Post and New York Times led to the resignation of President Nixon following the Watergate allegations.
So far, many of us have simply watched Trump from afar with our mouths open and a slight giggle in disbelief every so often, but this week’s manipulation of the press is a dark omen for the next four years of Trump’s Presidency. Buzzfeed may have played with the line in the sand of what is right and wrong in journalism, but if the President-Elect’s power over the press is allowed to continue, then we can say goodbye to a safe or morally sound tenure.