Donald Trump has always had a tenuous relationship with the media. For over 30 years, he has played it to his advantage while also lambasting it for any criticisms declared against him. The media has fueled his persona, image, and fortune. He uses it as a tool to make himself seem larger than life and that’s why this country could never seem to get rid of Trump.
Trump’s assault on the media has only escalated. After announcing his candidacy in June 2015, he would make broad statements criticizing the media and press for false reporting and conspiring to sabotage his campaigns. None of this is true. However, facts mean nothing to his support base who see journalists and reporters as enemies of the state.
Since becoming President, Trump has only exacerbated his relationship with the media. However, now serving as the Commander in Chief, he toes the line of being a despot when he openly condemns the press on Twitter or in speeches. There are dozens of leaders in history who have had difficult and antagonistic relationships with the press. Some were even American presidents. However, things tended to work out and the freedom of the press remained intact as one of this country’s most sacred principles.
However, the freedom of the press seems be at risk now more than ever. Trump has successfully vilified the media being the harbingers of destruction to the values his supporters hold dear. He actively makes statements that are unconstitutional in that they encourage the freedom of the press be dismantled or ignored so they he can pursue his own motives unchecked and unreported. Censorship is his main directive to further fool his supporters and blind the rest of the country to his treasonous and dangerous activities in the Oval Office.
Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House generated an unprecedented amount of buzz in the news last week. Wolff, a columnist and contributor to USA Today and The Hollywood Reporter¸ published this book with comments and insight from White House insiders such as Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon. Comments Bannon and others made in the book were leaked in early reports prior to the book’s publishing date.
Trump became furious with the comments and discredited them along with calling Bannon names and claiming his position in the administration was less significant than it actually was. He also threatened to sue Wolff if he published the book. Using Twitter, Trump was able to condemn Wolff and do so in a way that directly connected to his supporters. The major news outlets carried the story and made the book’s release such a national sensation that it was published four days early and sold out during special midnight releases at various retailers.
Needless to say, within one week, this book became huge and will likely make Wolff a millionaire. There are dozens of books on Trump’s administration and Wolff’s contribution would’ve been an interesting footnote if it hadn’t been for Trump’s reaction. He certainly made the situation worse for himself and elevated Wolff’s cultural capital. Trump, as usual, claimed the book was filled with lies and attacked Wolff’s credibility directly over social media. By even threatening to sue Wolff, it clearly demonstrates that Trump has no respect for the First Amendment and its protections for free speech and the press.
I currently have a copy of Wolff’s book on hold through the library and I have friends who bought a copy and a currently reading it. I’ll have it read within the next few weeks, but I have been following the sensationalist news reports and social media posts that have followed the book’s release. Prior to the buzz, I probably would’ve ignored the book because I didn’t know much about Wolff or even deemed him as a credible source. Now, with the buzz, I’m curious.
How much this book blew up was indeed unprecedented and I think the reason why is fairly simple. Keep in mind I haven’t read it so I’m trying to reserve judgment or skepticism, but it does seem that book offers a fair share of confirmation bias for those who believe Trump is unfit to be president. Wolff, as of when this blog was published, hasn’t been transparent as journalists should be. He also confirmed that the comments told to him have been unconfirmed, so those statements would be conjecture at this point. I struggle to refer to anyone who doesn’t verify their sources as a journalist. However, people are so desperate that they’ll cling on to any semblance of hope that their fears about Trump will be confirmed and that Washington will see the light and remove him from office.
Hope is a good thing to have. However, you also should be realistic. For most of this country, we already know Trump is a lunatic and unfit to hold office. In that regard, Wolff’s book just confirms what we already know. However, the appeal and lure that a Trump administration insider has some juicy gossip is what really sells this book. I haven’t read it yet, so I don’t know. However, I still can question Wolff for his decision to release an unverified book as journalism. We’re all desperate to oust Trump as soon as possible, but the sanctity of journalism must be maintained and upheld.
Personally, I do not absolutely compromise on the First Amendment. All speech, for me, is free speech and I treat the freedom of the press as something that is holy and Trump’s condemnation of the institution is blasphemy. Many other world-leading countries don’t have absolute freedom of the press and, as an American, its an institution I uphold as being American and necessity for this country to operate.
That being said, the press can be scrutinized or questioned when it does come to issues of credibility. Wolff’s unsubstantiated and unverified reports certainly do merit some investigation and discussion. However, outright banning books or news reports because they may critical of this country’s leader and their administration is absolutely wrong and un-American.
The First Amendment is under attack and not just from Trump. On the day of the book’s advanced release, a popular twitter account published a parody excerpt of the book. In the excerpt, an unnamed administration insider claimed his team edited gorilla footage to create a 24-hour closed circuit channel for Trump to watch and even suggested that he watches it 17 hours a day, four inches away from the screen, and talks to the gorillas on TV. Though the author stated it was a parody, the content is so ridiculous that it should be blatantly obvious that the excerpt is satire. However, this country is so desperate to believe any reason to remove Trump that many people didn’t realize the excerpt was a work of political satire.
That parody excerpt was shared all over social media. I read through reactions and comments. Many appreciated the humor while others were wondering if what they were reading was really true. However, I read one reaction that made me angry. Farhad Manjoo, a current contributor to The New York Times, said in a Tweet “don’t tweet screenshots of fake text (of book excerpts, court transcripts, etc.) even as a joke. You’re making things worse. The jokes just don’t work in a partisan-echo-chamber-feed world where everything is divorced from context and authorship.”
This is the end of satire, I thought. I felt Manjoo’s comment was so dangerous and irresponsible especially coming from a member of the press who embodies the principles inherent in the First Amendment. Not only do we have a political administration attempting to discredit and destroy this country’s freedom of the press, we have an actual member of the press telling us there are times where we’re not allowed to have satire.
I love satire and I hold it close to my heart as sacred. Not only as a firm believer in the First Amendment, but also as a tool. Laughing in the devil’s face is what takes away his power. Fear is what makes him unstoppable. When we fear our leaders and our oppressors, we give them power over ourselves that furthers their tyranny. However, when chip away at their power and ego with laughter and comical ridicule, they become weaker and we can overthrow them. That is what makes satire such an important tool.
Fake news and Russian influencing social media during the 2016 presidential election are still major problems this country has to sort out. I fully understand how misinformation, distributed across all the platforms, can influence people who do not know better. When Trump claims the nuclear button on his desk is bigger than Kim Jong-un’s, I realize there are some people so uneducated and out of the loop that they believe there is in actual button on Trump’s desk that the cleaning lady can accidentally brush up against and initiate nuclear Armageddon. I get that, but let’s not use that as an excuse.
By claiming that we can’t have satire because a small percentage of Trump voters cannot, or probably will not, distinguish between satire and reality thus fueling their own echo chamber is no reason why we should stop laughing in the devil’s face. Our First Amendment freedoms will not go away overnight. They cannot go away overnight. However, it can be slowly chipped away. Trump has been lambasting the media for years. Silencing your biggest critics is a game of inches and Trump knows that game. Repeat a lie enough and, eventually, people will believe it. Start making excuses why satire should be forgone temporarily and we’ll lose all eventually along with other Frist Amendment freedoms.
Manjoo’s comments were well-intentioned, but dangerous. I went back and thought about all the great pieces of satire in the in the modern age. I grew up with Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. I loved that Stephen Colbert was asked to speak during the White House Correspondent’s Dinner in 2006. Even before my time, there are moments of satire that stand the test of time. Charlie Chaplin’s gripping condemnation and ridicule of Hitler in The Great Dictator is timeless. Even the speech in that film resonates today, and that movie came out DURING World War II. I know a fake excerpt about a gorilla television network is no Chaplin piece, but it still represents the value and impact of satire.
I went back and listened to some of my favorite protest and political satire songs over the weekend. Doing so, I rediscovered my love for Spike Jones. In 1942, Spike Jones and His City Slickers recorded a version of “Der Fuehrer’s Face.” The song was a reworking of “The Nazi Song” written by Oliver Wallace. Parodying the German tune “Horst Wessel Song,” Jones’ rendition contains hilarious cartoon sound effects and tongue-in-cheek “Heil” salutes aimed at ridiculing and offending Nazis.
The song is sung from the voice of a satirical Nazi soldier. When he declares “der Fuehrer says we is de master race” and “not to love der Fuehrer is a great disgrace,” the backing band offers a “Heil” followed by a rubber razzer “pfft” kiss-off and a birdaphone (an instrument with a name coined by Jones) sound effect that deflates any sense of Nazi superiority and reduces them to buffoons. Even a soloist uses a feminine affectation of their voice declaring that the Nazis are “super-duper Supermen.” The song is incredibly funny in its lyrics and delivery. And though sung from the perspective of a cartoon Nazi, I doubt anyone was confused about its intent when released.
A version of the song would be later used in a Walt Disney cartoon by the same name in 1943. Though Disney was a notorious anti-Semite and had some Nazi leanings, the cartoon was a harsh condemnation against the evil superpower while World War II was raging. The cartoon features Donald Duck experiencing a nightmare where he is working in a Nazi factory producing artillery shells and propaganda. When he wakes up from this nightmare, he is grateful that he is a citizen of the United States where he doesn’t have to live in a dictatorship dystopia. The cartoon ends with a caricature of Hitler’s face a tomato being thrown at it.
While World War II is a huge milestone and the current administration’s autocratic leanings are nowhere near Hitler-like levels (yet), my point remains the same. While Manjoo claims that fake news and the current state of our echo chamber are reasons why we must be careful with the creation and distribution of satire, there were times when this country’s livelihood was more at risk but we still stuck it to the forces of evil with some well-utilized satire (and perhaps a little pro-American propaganda disguised as satire). Trump is no devil, but he sure is an evil man. Therefore, we need satire to deflate this blowhard as much as we can until he leaves office in disgrace.