The role of journalism in the age of Trump

The year is 2016, and President elect Donald Trump appointed an anti-Semitic white nationalist to be the White House’s chief strategist and senior counselor. Steve Bannon’s previous job as executive chairman of the Breitbart News Network made it abundantly clear that he is unfit to serve in the White House cabinet.

During his tenure at Breitbart, the Southern Poverty Law Center described the organization  as a “white ethno-nationalist propaganda mill.” Under Bannon’s eye, Breitbart repeatedly published articles promoting racist conspiracy theories, such as wildly inaccurate claims that African-Americans are committing crimes against whites at alarming rates and white nationalist manifestos condemning “Muslim rape culture.” The majority of Breitbart articles criticize multiculturalism, political correctness, and social justice in order to promote the belief that “white identity” is under attack. A former colleague of Bannon’s, Julia Jones, said that he “occasionally talked about the genetic superiority of some people and once mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners.” When Jones replied that doing so would exclude a lot of African-Americans, Bannon said, “Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.”

And now this white-nationalist has been elevated to a position of significant power within the Trump administration. However, from reading mainstream media articles about Bannon, one would be led to believe that Bannon is simply a levelheaded but principled conservative. One particularly enthusiastic article by the Wall Street Journal repeatedly defended Bannon against criticisms of his anti-Semitic and white supremacist remarks. Other news outlets, such as Politico, described Bannon as a champion of the so called “alt-right,” without explaining that the term alt-right refers to a loose set of far-right ideals focused on preserving white identity. Those who associate themselves with the alt-right frequently promote the creation of a white ethno-state. The alt-right also created a propaganda campaign to propagate the myth of “White Genocide,” or the idea that white people are being systematically eradicated by minorities.

In a recent memo to reporters about the term alt-right, John Daniszewski of the Associated Press warned journalists to be both specific and deliberate when using the phrase, considering it is really just a euphemism for white nationalism. Daniszewski wrote, “Avoid using the term generically and without definition…because it is not well known and the term may exist primarily as a public-relations device to make its supporters’ actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience. In the past we have called such beliefs racist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist.” The use of the phrase alt-right to hide their true white nationalist agenda is part of a broader public relations campaign by white nationalists to make their ideas more palatable to the general public. 

Never before has the United States had a president like Donald Trump. For this reason, responsible and fearless journalism is more necessary now than ever. Mainstream media outlets cannot normalize Donald Trump’s actions. Instead, it is their responsibility to continually criticize Trump for his blatant embrace of a white nationalist. These media sources also need to stop using the term alt-right, and instead describe Bannon for what he truly is—a racist and anti-Semitic threat to the core values of American democracy.