Donald Trump and the professional news industry share a dysfunctional, and often abusive, relationship that is escalating a long brewing global Information War. Where professional news outlets feed off the cheap, easy, and profitable controversies Trump continually supplies, the President capitalizes off the reach of the Media to broaden his audience while utilizing an intensifying distrust of these elitist institutions to gain influence over them and deflect criticism away from himself by undercutting their increasingly fragile credibility. The Trump Administration’s efforts to selectively exclude news outlets from so-called “press gaggles” and asking questions during press briefings is just a recent example of the war between Donald Trump, who views the professional news industry as an enemy of all Americans, and the Media.
On the one hand, the Press offers the American People their only window into the Oval Office, thereby providing some of the much needed scrutiny that keeps public officials like the President from engaging in corruption and public policies that run counter to the interests of the American People. By selecting media outlets that favor the President, thereby effectively punishing those who criticize him, the Trump Administration is dismantling oversight of the Executive Branch in violation of the First Amendment. On the other hand, the professional news industry is itself very much an exclusive club, which hires and enriches people based on their connections, elitist status, and the compatibility of their views. Although the Trump Administration would be better served by including, so-called “alternative news” providers, instead of excluding traditional ones, the professional news industry needs to address its flaws as well.
From Trump’s perspective, the Media is responsible for his declining credibility, even though it is precisely his frivolous attacks on individuals and organizations, such as news providers, that undermine his credibility. The difference between the Media, which is largely anti-Trump and is undermining his credibility with the news coverage selected by journalists, is that Trump has the power of wealth and the Presidency; whereas, news outlets solely have the power of their credibility. Long ago, news outlets, governments, and even Intelligence agencies were trusted. Today, these civil institutions are, at best, doubted. Anyone who associated with them is suspect or presumed dishonest. Because there is a thorough and widespread lack of trust, it is possible to wage an information war to foster doubt and distrust, which prevents people from banding together and addressing serious issues.
The problem is not a lack of civil institutions. It is the inability to trust in civil institutions that are needed and must be trusted. Unfortunately, there is no easily or quick answer to this trust deficit. Quite frankly, the Peoples of the world will never against fully trust in their civil institutions and leaders. Proactive and constant transparency will, however, help eventually restore a workable level of trust. When there is a continual stream of revolutions demonstrating the inability to trust those in civil institutions, and their decisions, trust becomes impossible. Where there is a reluctance to recognize and confront uncomfortable truths, trust buildings is not possible. A commitment to transparency is the only remedy. There must also be a greater commitment to inclusion, which allows social institutions, such as news outlets, to rebuild their credibly by empowering the trusted and the trustworthy from those outside of the already affluent.
In waging an information war, the objective is to cast doubt on the credibility of facts, interpretations of information, and/or actors. This, in turn, helps foster, at the very least, confusion. Ultimately, a successful information war will result in the complete distrust of the target. A well crafted information war will also foster misplaced trust in those waging the campaign. Ultimately, the driving force behind the global Information War is a lack of trust in civil institutions, such as governments, national security agencies, news outlets, and the sciences. Instead of trusting traditional, and necessary, sources of information, people tend to trust their own preconceived notions and more familiar sources of information, which are more sympathetic to their views. This makes it very difficult to both dispel misperceptions, as well as misinformation, and much easier to use bias to manipulate groups of individuals who share similar views.
An information war cannot simply be fought with facts, because an information war is waged by manipulating how people perceive facts. Fake news, information wars, and the general poisoning of the internet with widespread misinformation are transforming the Information Age into the Dark Misinformation Age. Where the World Wide Web promised to empower mankind with an ever-expanding library of open knowledge and a platform for global discussion, those skilled in the science of IT and the art of propaganda have seized control of cyberspace. Combating those who abuse the power of their technical skills and cyber infrastructure requires a new Age of Enlightenment. It requires a revolution in how people consume information. It also requires those organizations that provide and vet the news to mend their ways and rebuild their credibility.
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