Something Out of Nothing

The press’s job is to inform the public. A propagandist’s job is to convince the public what to think.

Over the weekend, post-inauguration, nearly every media outlet has run some variation of a story declaring that the Trump administration has alarmingly removed all references to climate change, Latinos, LGBT and a variety of other issues. Usually these stories focus on one individual aspect of these changes, and in the case of climate change this apparently, according to the mainstream press, sent shockwaves through the scientific community.

“Scientists fear the online deletions will extend far beyond changes to introductory websites and into the realm of government data. Climate change data gathered and stored by the United States government is considered among the most authoritative in the world. But scientists worry the data will be deleted during the Trump administration.” nytimes.com

As of this writing, there were over 120 articles all using different variations of fear-mongering titles with cautionary words like “scrubbed clean”, “disappear”, “vanish”, “no more mention of”, “critical issues go missing”, “sanitizes”, “scraps”, “dropped”, “drastic”, “axes”, and various other phrases. One thing nearly every single article has in common is it’s alarming tone. Take for example the following from the Sacramento Bee:

Trump scrubs climate change from White House web site; environmentalists fume

“IT’S TRULY DISTURBING THAT ONE OF THE FIRST ACTIONS BY THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION IS TO REMOVE NEARLY ALL REFERENCES TO CLIMATE CHANGE FROM THE WHITE HOUSE WEBSITE”
Sam Adams, US director of the World Resources Institute

With all the consistency in these headlines spread across social media, millions of people might be led to believe something machavelian is going on. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The insinuation that reading these headlines presents is that the Trump administration is specifically targeting climate change, Latinos and the LGBT and excluding these from the public dialogue or discriminating against them. It’s a lie the media seems desperate to convince the public of by making a story out of nothing.

While many of these articles do in fact mention that all of the previous information that was on whitehouse.gov has been moved to a new address at obamawhitehouse.archives.gov, they fail to mention that archive.gov is itself, the national archive. The National Archives operates as an independent agency and is run by a presidential appointee; currently an Obama appointee. While these pages and all of their content may have been taken off the White House’s website, this occurrence is nothing new. Since the establishment of whitehouse.gov in 1994, every administration has completely revised the website after the inauguration of a new president. Obama removed the entire website of the bush administration, which can still be found at the National Archives at georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov. What’s significant about differences between the transition from Bush to Obama and Obama to Trump isn’t the content of the website but the reaction of the media to those changes and the fact that the Trump administration actually kept in place features Obama launched, such as the petition site, We the People.

When the Obama administration launched it’s new administration’s website, it did so with change.gov, which is archived by the Library of Congress. Change.gov featured transition related content until the Obama administration was able to launch what became the new whitehouse.gov website. In essence, it completely removed all of the Bush doctrine language in exactly the same way that Trump removed the Obama doctrine content. What was missing during Obama’s transition was the outrage in the media over the removal of content related to Bush’s doctrine.

What did the media have to say about the Obama transitions changes? “Obama unveils new presidential website“, “Obama Debuts new Whitehouse.gov“, “Change comes to Whitehouse.gov“, “Whitehouse.gov Has a New Face, and a Blog” are just a few of the only articles you can even find on the subject. Did the Internet forget something or did the media just not care about the transition enough to document it.

Maybe it just wasn’t considered newsworthy by the editors at the time; likely because it really wasn’t newsworthy. Just like it really isn’t newsworthy now, unless of-course you want to sew division, outrage, fear and hatred, in which case it makes for a great dog-whistle headline for everyone already afraid that a Trump administration is out to get them because he’s a bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic, climate denying, sexual predator who’s a Russian puppet who’s going to throw all the Muslims into internment camps, in which case it’s completely justifiable news because it reinforces at least more than one of those belief’s. Then again, it could just be another nail in the coffin of the mainstream media’s credibility with the public.

But it doesn’t end there. Among the current outrage over this absolutely normal transition the administrations website, the We the People site contains a petition to “Demand Trump administration add LGBT rights, climate change, and civil rights back to the list of issues on wh.giv site.” As of this writing, it still requires over 99,800 signatures to garner a response from the White House on the issue.

Take a moment and consider that between all of the authors, editors, producers, broadcasters, anchors and pundits that opined on this one issue, all added together, there are significantly more of them than the actual number of people compelled enough to actually engage directly with the white house.

One would think that if there were so many climate change scientists outraged at this event, they might be bothered enough to fill out an online form stating their outrage. Clearly, that hasn’t happened yet but who knows, maybe they just need time to recover from the shock that Donald Trump is actually president. The apparent outrage of millions of people marching on behalf of LGBT rights and women might have taken a break from holding a sign to actually sign an online petition so they can “not allow ourselves to be erased.” but maybe they were too busy marching or burning newspaper stands to notice.

If you are one of those offended by the removal of this content, maybe you should take Donald Trump’s advice to heart?

“We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining, but never doing anything about it. The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.” ~ Donald Trump Inauguration Speech, January 20th 2017

The real problem with the beliefs these headlines lead people to isn’t just that they are a false cause but that perpetuating a false cause like this can lead to the extreme views, which I cited above are becoming increasingly more common, especially among the young, and politically uninformed. Those beliefs themselves are dangerous, divisive and undermine the very fabric that unifies us as a country. These are intentional, blatantly biased and false interpretations of the facts designed to create an opinion in the mind of the reader before they are informed of the facts. It depends on a simple strategy; that people don’t actually bother reading. They read the headline, it triggers their existing biased beliefs and they share it. Rinse, repeat, recycle and you have a faux viral outrage over something that actually nothing.

This kind of click-baiting is how extremists groups radicalize people to commit terrorist acts as lone wolf actors. It’s beyond fake news, dishonest journalism or poor writing. It’s derisive and it’s an intentional attempt to sew conflict in our society. It deepens the bandwagoning that leads to civil unrest by encouraging people to believe something must be true because so many other people believe it; because it’s all over the news and we should trust the news. It is an absolute betrayal by the media of the public trust.

So if the feminist activists, social justice warriors, Hollywood stars, so called journalists and climate scientists who claim to be so offended over the changes on Whitehouse.gov aren’t willing to bother filling out the petition, maybe you should think twice about how outraged you should actually be over making something out of nothing.

When the press become propagandists, our democracy fails to function properly.