If you have ever wanted to see the totally unfiltered opinions of the American people, look no further than the comments on your local news station’s Facebook page. It is here, behind a thin veil of internet anonymity — or at least as much anonymity as a Facebook profile provides — that we tarnish one of our nations founding principles. The truth.
It is not news that Americans have an unfavorable outlook on the media. Public confidence in the press has trended downward since the late 1970s. A September 2020 Gallup poll on trust in media showed 60% of Americans have “not very much trust” or “none at all.” But if not the news media, where else can one go for “the truth” but to their elected officials?
It goes without saying that former President Donald Trump’s Twitter presence fed into his reputation. The former president utilized the platform to begin his claims of “fake news” against publications that criticized his actions. This began a dangerous cycle of misinformation.
People fed up with news media came to a president for “the truth” who fueled distrust in the media with his claims, creating a cycle that only brought more people to his Twitter.
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The former president’s “fake news” campaigns didn’t stop at left-leaning news sources. In November of 2020, the former president took to Twitter to attack Fox News, tweeting that “#FoxNews is dead.” These attacks came after Fox News projected now-President Joe Biden as the winner of the general election in Arizona.
At the time of the election, the former president had consolidated his supporters’ viewership to the internet, away from traditional news outlets, and onto him directly. Cultivating seeds of distrust present since the 70s, he had the ability to say anything, unchecked. How can the media do their job as the proverbial “fourth check” on the government if the government — and the citizenry — can just ignore them?
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The job of presenting “the truth” to the millions of loyal Trump supporters was no longer in the hands of the news media but solely in the hands of Trump himself. Nowhere was this more apparent than the January attacks on the U.S. Capitol.
Following Trump’s loss in the November general election, He made it clear to his supporters, via Twitter and lawsuits, that the election was somehow “rigged.” These baseless conspiracies prompted the raids on the U.S. Capitol which cost five people their lives. It also marked the end of Trump’s tenure on Twitter and most social media platforms as a result of his tweets encouraging the Jan. 6 protest.
As easy as it may be to scoff at the protestors who stormed the capitol as simply QAnon conspiracy theorists, it’s important to remember that these people honestly believe what they stand for is right. They believe that the election was stolen and that President Joe Biden somehow rigged the election. There isn’t a way to explain the world better or convince them otherwise because the truth can only come from Trump, the martyr for their beliefs.
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Now that Joe Biden has taken office and begun signing executive orders reversing Trump-era policies, the effects of Trump’s campaign against the news media and the truth are becoming evident. Again, take a look at the comments under any article on your local news station’s Facebook page. If President Biden hopes to unify the country, he has a long road ahead of him, starting with the first roadblock — reinstating the truth.
Ryan Badger ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science.