“Democracy dies in darkness” new slogan of the Washington Post

Mainstream media must rethink tactics throughout Trump Era politics

Jacob Knutson


“Democracy dies in darkness.”

This is the new slogan the Washington Post rolled out on its online homepage Feb. 17.

The phrase was popularized by legendary investigative journalist and Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, most famous for his and Carl Bernstein’s 1970s reporting that uncovered the Watergate scandal during Richard Nixon’s presidency.

Responses of the change were a mix of mockery and praise. Some called the slogan melodramatic, others said it encapsulated the inherent function of journalism: to shine a light.

While the publication says the slogan has nothing to do with President Trump, the timing is impeccable.

The change comes after a full week of attacks on mainstream media sources from President Trump and his lackeys. If the change was a response to the attacks, it reveals one thing: mainstream media outlets feels threatened. But they shouldn’t.

While President Trump’s attacks on mainstream media have been baseless and potentially destructive, they are nothing new. He’s been battling the media even before considering running for office.

He’s made pointless statements countless times and posted imbecilic tweets that would have capsized other politicians, but these aren’t the product of impulsiveness. They are part of a carefully maintained strategy that the press is too impulsive to resist.

When mainstream media responds in such a way, it plays into Trump’s strategy: play the victim. His supporters see the stories as trivial and nitpicky, even if the publication is reporting potential ties between President Trump and Russia.

Though it’s not intended, this creates a marketplace for citizens of sources that affirm their beliefs, thus explaining the increase in traffic fringe media site are seeing.

This also explains why, in a new poll from Quinnipiac University, only 52 percent of people said they trusted the mainstream media more than President Trump. While this is a majority, it’s not large. This shouldn’t be the case.

This is not to say what Trump says doesn’t matter. It does. This is also not to say credible journalism is at fault. They are doing what they are trained to do: report news.

This is to say that mainstream media stoop to Trump’s level and play victim.

Since it’s founding, American journalism has been under threat.

In 1733, German immigrant John Peter Zenger printed numerous articles in the New York Weekly Journal, accusing the British royal governor of New York, William S. Cosby, of rigging elections.

Though the authors who wrote the articles were anonymous and Zenger merely printed the articles, he was still jailed and accused of libel.

In his day, libel didn’t mean defamation as it does today. It meant he published information—truth or falsehood irrelevant—critical of the government.

Though he was eventually defended by Alexander Hamilton and found not guilty, the Zenger case embodies the importance of protections of a free and fair press and led, many decades later, to the protections embodied in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

While this case is held as the quintessential mark of protections of the press, it is important to note that today is nothing like Zenger’s time. The press of our age holds far more power than press in Zenger’s time; the only difference is our press needs to act like it.

No matter the accusation, in malice or praise, the press must respond by simply putting its head down and working. The story should never be “Donald Trump vs. the media.” The story should never be about the media. It should be about how the new administration’s haphazard policies affect the American people.

President Trump’s first solo press conference on Feb. 16 was nothing less than a train wreck. It was scandalous, but Trump’s attack on media is not news.

What is news are the consequences of Trump’s repealing the endangered species act, the growing famine in South Sudan that is estimated to affect more than 20 million people and the thousands of troops requested by Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, Jr. to break the stalemate in the Afghanistan War.

In dealing with Trump, media outlets must realize that while putting President Trump’s reckless statements on the front page garners clicks and attention, it gives him a spotlight to spread more empty rhetoric.

Instead of using precious resources to give Trump a spotlight, urge the veteran journalists attending press conferences to investigate. Use them to find Trump’s tax returns and his connections to Russia.

In short, media sources should invest in journalists like Woodward and Bernstein. They are out there, ready and willing to lighten the darkness and prolong democracy.

Jacob Knutson is a sophomore  journalism and political science major from Rapid City, S.D.


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