Accuracy in Media

Jeff Daniels, an actor known in part for a speech he gave during an episode of the HBO series “The Newsroom” in which he explained why America is no longer the greatest country in the world, saying that we were informed by great men of the media, and that helped us make better decisions.

So it was little surprise when Daniels unloaded again on MSNBC, saying “If the big gamble is to go all the way to November 2020, which I agree, and lose, it’s the end of democracy.”

Later, he said, “We’re all waiting for that guy [to turn over the unredacted Mueller report to the Washington Post].” Nicolle Wallace, the MSNBC anchor on the segment, said, “Me too.”

But although it has increasingly become a theme on the left – casting dark aspersions that President Trump somehow will subsume democracy when his time is up, be it 2020 or 2024 if he wins re-election – Salon has been on this theme for two years now.

In 2017, it presented a piece by Chauncey DeVega, quoting Timothy Snyder, a historian at Yale and author of a book called “On Tyranny,” as saying “It’s pretty much inevitable that Trump will try to stage a coup and overthrow democracy.”

DeVega sets the scene by declaring “American democracy is in crisis. The election of Donald Trump feels like a state of emergency made normal.

“Trump has threatened violence against his political enemies. He has made clear he does not believe in the norms and traditions of American democracy – unless they serve his interests. Trump and his advisers consider a free press to be enemies of his regime. Trump repeatedly lies and has a profoundly estranged relationship with empirical reality. He uses obvious and naked racism, nativism and bigotry to mobilize voters and to disparage entire groups of people such as Latinos and Muslims.”

On top of that, DeVega accuses the president of “threatening to eliminate an independent judiciary” and wanting to “punish judges who dare to stand against his illegal and unconstitutional mandates;” of “using the office of the presidency to enrich himself, his family and his inner circle by peddling influence and access to corporations, foreign countries and wealthy individuals” in “violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution.”

DeVega then poses a series of questions to the author. How did this happen, he asks. “We asked for it by saying that history was over in 1989 [with the end of the Cold War]. By saying nothing bad could happen again, we were basically inviting something bad to happen.”

DeVega asks if it’s right for him to refer to Trump as a fascist. Snyder says “One of the problems with American discourse is that we just assume everybody is a friendly democratic parliamentarian pluralist until proven otherwise. And even when it’s proven otherwise, we don’t have any vocabulary for it. He’s a ‘dictator.’ He’s an ‘authoritarian.’ He’s ‘Hitler.’ We just toss those words around.”

DeVega asks how the media got this so wrong “Why did they underestimate the threat posed by Donald Trump and his movement?”  

Finally, he asks about a passage in Snyder’s book that says Trump “will have his own version of Hitler’s Reichstag fire to expand his power and take full control of the government by declaring a state of emergency” and asks how that will “play out.”

“I think it’s pretty much inevitable that they will try” to hold power through illegal means. “The reason I think that is that the conventional ways of being popular are not working out for them … This means they could be seduced by the notion of getting into a new rhythm of politics, one that does not depend upon popular policies and electoral cycles.”

Photo by Montclair Film

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