William B. Turner
I have no reason to flatter myself that I am a “media influencer.” Dear reader, I’m just sure you jump when I type “frog,” right? Oh, well.
Even so, the Department of Homeland Security has announced that it plans to start monitoring the “media,” an absurdly broad term that is virtually meaningless, but in this context plainly means primarily people who gather and report news, and lazy bastards like me who sit around and write opinion pieces on the basis of new hard working reporters report. A columnist for Forbes magazine discussed this development in the context of concerns about foreign meddling in U.S. elections and steps Facebook is taking to combat “fake news,” in order to put the best possible face on it. Very kind of her.
She then quite reasonably turns to discuss the growing problem of attacks on the press around the world, especially right here in the good, old, USA, which is supposed to be a world leader in that distinctively liberal practice of leaving the press as free as possible to report what they find, no matter how much that may upset people in power. The so called president, of course, has made himself notorious for various noxious practices, but one that is at or near the top of the noxious list is his attacks on the press. During the campaign, he encouraged the crowds at his rallies to jeer at the press. At least one reporter feared for her safety after the Donald repeatedly singled her out for attacks.
Multiple observers have commented on the similarities between the Donald and Richard Nixon, the Republican president who created the toxic political dynamic of which the Donald is the apotheosis, and, we can hope, the end. Nixon was also famous for having a deep seated hostility towards the press. But this current, very bad, idea nicely illustrates the important differences between the two. Nixon was a lawyer and had served two terms as vice president before he became president. He observed the principles of good government usually only in the breach, but he knew what they were. Breaking rules as an expert who knows what rules you’re breaking is a very different thing from breaking rules as a crazy idiot who doesn’t know that there are rules. There is not a single rule of good writing you learned in high school that some great author somewhere has not broken at some point in some great work of literature. That does not make a typing monkey a great author. If Nixon was the Shakespeare of press paranoia, Trump is the typing monkey.
By itself, a list of journalists and top “media influencers” is innocuous. It will only become a problem if the Trump administration decides to try to use that list as the basis for any sort of disfavorable treatment of any individual, of whatever sort, whether that be auditing income tax returns, putting the person on the “no fly” list, or any number of other actions, short of actual prosecution, that the federal government could come up with. The good news is that anyone who can connect such disfavorable treatment to being on a list of journalists and “media influencers” would immediately have an excellent case in federal court.
So please, please, even though I’m not very influential, please put me on your list. I’d consider it an honor. Then, please, please, come pick on me because of my status as (not) a “media influencer.” I’d love to have a chat about it in front of a federal judge. I dare you. I double dog dare you.