The Trump administration has declared war on the truth. With their use of ‚Äúalternative facts,‚ÄĚ their repeated insistence that the inauguration attracted record crowds and their flat-out lies about rampant voter fraud, Trump and his spokespeople are using their nearly unfettered access to TV audiences to distribute propaganda and deliberately mislead the American people.1, 2
TV networks have a responsibility to inform their viewers. By booking serial liar Kellyanne Conway as a frequent guest and broadcasting Trump administration press conferences live, TV networks are doing a disservice to the American people and shirking their responsibility to serve as arbiters of the truth.
CNN made a conscious decision not to air a live broadcast of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer‚Äôs first press conference.3 It is time for all other TV networks to follow suit and stop broadcasting Trump‚Äôs lies.
During the campaign, cable news and broadcast TV networks gave Trump tens of millions of dollars' worth of free airtime, providing a free platform for him to spew his hate and lies. In 2015, more than 200,000 CREDO members signed a petition urging CNN and MSNBC to ‚Äústop providing free publicity for Donald Trump‚Äôs racist and dangerous rhetoric.‚ÄĚ4 Unfortunately, CNN and MSNBC did not heed our call.
Since the inauguration, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway and Trump himself have shown that they fully intend to use the media as a conduit for their propaganda and misinformation campaigns designed to mislead the public.
One prominent example of this is the Trump administration‚Äôs repeated and bizarre lies about the size of the crowd at the inauguration. First, Trump falsely claimed that up to 1.5 million people attended his inauguration, despite overwhelming evidence of far fewer people in attendance.5 White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer then doubled down on this lie in his very first White House press briefing the day after the inauguration, claiming Trump had drawn ‚Äúthe largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.‚ÄĚ6 When confronted with these lies by NBC‚Äôs Chuck Todd, Kellyanne Conway insisted that they weren‚Äôt falsehoods but were actually just ‚Äúalternative facts,‚ÄĚ prompting widespread mockery on the internet and disbelief from journalists.7
As veteran reporter and former national news anchor Dan Rather forcefully pointed out, the concept of ‚Äúalternative facts‚ÄĚ is a ‚Äúpropaganda tool to confuse people.‚ÄĚ8
While the size of the crowd on inauguration day isn‚Äôt consequential in the scheme of things, the Trump administration‚Äôs insistence on disseminating such blatant misinformation is deeply troubling. There will be countless times when the Trump administration will make claims that the media is not able to independently verify. Given the Trump administration‚Äôs willingness to blatantly lie to the media, responsible journalists and media outlets must always assume that the Trump administration is lying unless independent evidence shows otherwise.
The nature of the relationship between the Trump administration and the media for the next few years will largely be determined by how individual media outlets and reporters respond to Trump‚Äôs lies in the next few weeks. Media executives and journalists must take a strong stand now and fight back against the Trump administration‚Äôs lies.
It will take massive public outcry to convince the decision makers at major TV networks to stop giving the Trump administration unlimited airtime to broadcast its lies, hate and propaganda on live television. We hope you‚Äôll help build that outcry now by adding your name to our petition and sharing it with your friends and family.
Thanks for everything you do,
Josh Nelson, Deputy Political Director
Add your name:
1. Benjy Sarlin, ‚Äú,‚ÄĚ NBC News, Jan. 24, 2017.
2. Nicholas Fandos, ‚Äú,‚ÄĚ The New York Times, Jan. 24, 2017.
3. Brian Stelter, ‚Äú,‚ÄĚ CNN, Jan. 21, 2017.
4. Lloyd Grove, ‚Äú,‚ÄĚ The Daily Beast, Dec. 15, 2016.
5. Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Matthew Rosenberg, ‚Äú,‚ÄĚ The New York Times, Jan. 21, 2017.
6. April Glaser, ‚Äú,‚ÄĚ Recode, Jan. 22, 2017.
7. Eric Bradner, ‚Äú,‚ÄĚ CNN, Jan. 23, 2017.
8. Joe DePaolo, ‚Äú,‚ÄĚ Mediaite, Jan. 24, 2017.