According to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, the Trump administration is “going to hold the press accountable” because “the American people deserve better.” Some media outlets could certainly stand to improve their credibility, but the whole point of constitutionally protecting the free press is to check our political class. The idea of politicians policing the press should raise a few eyebrows.

Before you start casting blame for our current media woes at Donald Trump, Barack Obama or some other politician, let me head you off at the pass. They didn’t create the problem. We did.

Right now, our expectations for the press are quite low. There are probably more children begging for steamed Brussels sprouts at dinner than Americans who expect the modern press to educate, inform and challenge them.

The problem is that too many of us have abandoned news that informs us in favor of content that agrees with us. “Media bias” and “fake news” are almost always talking about the other political camp’s outlets. Our national press increasingly has aligned and mixed with our politics rather than independently observing and reporting on them. As a result, affirmation wins out over information. Our favored outlets then orient the same facts to support radically different narratives.

Don’t take my word for it. Just flip to a different channel during any major presidential speech. You’ll see perspectives on the same speech so divergent that you’ll wonder if they’re actually talking about the same thing. The alignment is apparent.

You’re a Democrat, you watch MSNBC like it’s your job, read Huffington Post and think Obama was the greatest president ever. You’re a Republican, you hear more from Sean Hannity than your own children, read Wall Street Journal and just know that Donald Trump is going to save America.

Unlike state-sponsored propaganda in a place like North Korea that pushes one narrative, American propaganda ensures that nobody gets left out.

The echo chambers certainly feel nice. That warm blanket of affirmation goes along well with the milk and cookies of shared outrage and enemies. Too bad it’s making us dumber and simultaneously eroding one of the Constitution’s protections against tyranny.

The various media camps make it almost impossible to hold ideologically aligned politicians accountable. When your audience is on one end of the political spectrum, it doesn’t take kindly to jabs directed at favored politicians even if they’re warranted. The result is a large swath of the population that’s rarely critical or questioning of its own political power brokers.

Our nation was founded with a deep skepticism of consolidated political power regardless of the political party that wields it. The Constitution contemplates the free press as a critical check on the political establishment. America’s founders put it in the same league as freedom of religion, speech, assembly and petition. It’s literally in the same amendment as those rights because it’s crucial to maintaining them.

Our current press environment is great for one group of Americans: Politicians. They’ll accept the accolades of the favored media camp and dismiss the criticisms of opposing outlets as biased. Wash, rinse, repeat.

At this point, restoring the credibility of the press won’t be easy, but it’s a worthy goal. That means regaining our skepticism of political power–even if it belongs to politicians we’re inclined to agree with. “What truly matters is not which party controls our government,” said Trump during his inauguration, “but whether our government is controlled by the people.” He’s right. Having a press willing to hold even our preferred politicians accountable is an essential part of rising to meet that challenge.

Image by stock_photo_world

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