In a speech delivered to journalism students at the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin, retired Admiral William McRaven quoted the words of Donald Trump that the “news media is the enemy of the American people” and then stated that “this sentiment may be the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime” and that “as journalism majors, as Americans, you should challenge that sentiment and that statement every opportunity you can”.
What was a retired admiral doing speaking to journalism students? McRaven retired from the Navy after nearly four decades and subsequently became chancellor of the University of Texas System. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, so he was at his alma mater speaking to students studying what he had studied. However, make no mistake; this statement by McRaven is undoubtedly a warning to Congress but is far more pointed than the oblique one given by the Department of Defense late in January. One wonders how pointed these warnings have to become before Congress acts to remove the greatest threat to American democracy since the middle of last century.
The admiral is dead right. One thing which separates great democracies from countries like Russia, China etc is free, probing and relatively unbiased journalism. Investigative journalism in particular – reports which cuts through the weasel words, the ideology, the meaningless waffle, the intentional obfuscation and concealments, and the mindless slogans such as “jobs and growth”, “Australia is open for business”,”I’ll make America great again”. Hitler understood the value of lies, propaganda and control of the media. Could a modern Hitler ever emerge in the great western democracies? No doubt, but it will take gross indifference from reasonable men and women, acquiescence from those who know better (Republican members of the Congress are on notice), and someone with far more intelligence than the vindictive narcissist Donald Trump.