By Alex P. Vidal
“The effect of the mass media is not to elicit belief but to maintain the apparatus of addiction.”—Christopher Lasch
I DIDN’T stop monitoring the entire inauguration program of the incoming administration in the United States in Washington D.C. since early morning January 20 until President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was already in the White House past 12 noon.
Seven hours after the genesis of the Biden administration, White House press secretary, Jennifer Psakis, gave a detailed briefing on how the new administration will deal with the press and why it is important that they should work together as partners in nation building.
I thought this was the highlight of the day, the first full- blown and blow by blow episode involving a White House top official other than Mr. Biden and the members of the Fourth Estate.
I thought this was very significant as it would set the tune of what lies ahead for the critical press, which underwent a roller coaster ride and tremendous bullying during the combative Trump administration.
It was actually more vexatious to observe how the previous administration treated the press, which was constantly harangued as “enemy of the people” by no less than former President Donald Trump.
There was no doubt the relationship between the press and Mr. Trump was an unconventional one.
The enmity and war he waged on the entire media establishment and constant accusations of “fake news” gave entirely new meaning to the term “watchdog journalism.”
“Whether you share in Trump’s resentment, or think his claims are utter nonsense, what the media’s role in society is supposed to be is a topic questioned by Americans—especially in comparison to what it actually is,” observed Hanna Flanagan of The Standard.
For sophomore anthropology major Jesse Walker-McGraw, the watchdog role of the press is an essential one.
She said the media’s job is to hold people in the public eye accountable, especially political figures. Walker-McGraw also said the press has an obligation to force “some degree of transparency” on government organizations.
“On a more fundamental level,” added Flanagan, “sophomore nursing major Paige Broghammer said the role of the press is to communicate and inform. She also said news outlets need to convey the tone of the events they are reporting. The overall emotion of the stakeholders in something newsworthy should be communicated in the coverage of it.”
Flipping through a prepared reading material and arriving wearing two masks, the 42-year-old secretary we used to watch on CNN as regular commentator, quipped: “I have deep respect for the role of a free and independent press and for the role you all play.”
She admitted that “there will be moments when we disagree and there will be days when we disagree for extensive parts of the briefing, even perhaps. I believe we have a common goal, which is sharing accurate information with the American people.”
Psakis emphasized: “I come to this podium having served in the White House and at the State Department as the spokesperson there, and I traveled the world on trips to promote democracy where I saw the power of the United States, and of course the power of this podium and the power of truth, and the importance of setting an example of engagement and transparency.”
“If the president were standing with me here today, he would say he works for the American, I work for him, so I also work for the American people,” she said.
“So, his objective and his commitment is to bring transparency and truth back to government, to share the truth even when it is hard to hear, and that is something I hope to deliver on as well.”
NBC News chief White House correspondent Peter Alexander said that “the battle for truth may be as tough right now as the battle against the coronavirus.”
“How do you and President Biden plan to combat disinformation that in many ways led to that assault that we witnessed two weeks ago today on the Capitol?” he asked.
“There are many ways to combat misinformation,” Psaki said. “One of them is accurate information and truth and data and sharing information even when it is hard to hear.”
“Rebuilding trust with the American people will be central to our focus in the press office and in the White House every single day,” Psaki said.
Fielding questions about coronavirus relief, Psaki said Biden was “no stranger to the process of bill making,” and reiterated the president’s campaign pledge to work across the aisle to pass comprehensive relief legislation.
“We’re at the beginning of the process,” Psaki said. “Rarely does it look exactly like the initial package that is proposed.”
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)