Diane Mufson: Truth, First Amendment under attack by Trump

Herald-Dispatch opinion

The news is always enlightening and controversial. Lately, the media has been under attack and there is concern for our First Amendment rights, especially following President Trump strategist Stephen Bannon’s statement that “The media should keep its mouth shut.”

News organizations often slant reports to fit their political persuasions, yet we expect the news to be truthful and verifiable, even when we don’t like the message. Recently, President Trump’s senior advisor introduced “alternative facts,” a dangerous news form.

The salient word is “facts.” According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a fact is “something that truly exists or happens; something that has actual existence.” It is verifiable with realistic and objective data.

Trying to “modify” facts is common. Parents and teachers know that children will insist that the blameless dog devoured their homework and adults frequently distort the truth for their benefit. Modified or alternative truths are lies.

The Wall Street Journal, which has been supportive of President Trump, reported that “Defending a series of false statements by the official White House Spokesman, a senior Trump administration advisor (Kellyanne Conway) suggested the official has been invoking ‘alternative facts’ rather than untruths.” Perhaps, Americans need to reread George Orwell’s “1984” and check out “doublespeak.” An “untruth” is a lie. Due to recent demand, the publisher of “1984” has ordered a new printing of this book.

The WSJ also stated, “Despite evidence to the contrary, White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, delivered a statement on Saturday (Jan. 21) disputing reports that the crowd for President Donald Trump’s inauguration was smaller than those at former President Barack Obama’s inauguration.” In a TV interview with Ms. Conway, Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet the Press” asked, “What was the motive to have this ridiculous litigation of crowd size?” Conway’s reply was “Your job is not to call things ridiculous that are said by our press secretary or president.” So we can no longer criticize presidents? Is Russia’s Putin giving advice?

What is wrong with President Trump and his advisors when they now occupy the American catbird seat to expend effort trying to prove he is more popular than the preceding president? It sounds so much like middle school behavior. It would be laughable if the people raising this issue were not residing and working in the White House.

According to many sources, President Trump claims that he would have won the popular vote if it were not for 3 million to 5 million illegal ballots cast for Hilary Clinton. Where are the facts? Are they “alternative”? No large instances of voter fraud were found anywhere in the country.

Once again, President Trump had the majority of the Electoral College votes. Even a brief attempt to check the votes in a few selected states showed no likelihood of change regarding the final count. Why hasn’t he, like President George W. Bush, who also lost the popular vote, moved on?

The answer may be that our new president cannot abide being anything but the ultimate in any contest, and he and his staff are willing to obfuscate the facts and figures to put him in that spot. It is one thing to seek great admiration, but it is quite different for a president to have his spokespeople trying to silence the media who disagree with him and pushing “alternative facts.” These are dangerous moves for our country.

Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. Her email is [email protected].

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