From the Inauguration Comes Hope: The Media Overlook of American Civility
By Skyler Zunk '19
The millions of Americans that tuned into the inauguration on Friday witnessed a hallmark of American democracy: the peaceful transfer of power between administrations. Unfortunately, television viewers were also bombarded by images of violent protesters tainting the day by doing all they could to disrupt the tranquility of the city. As someone who experienced the inauguration first-hand, I am compelled to say that the tumultuous and vehement scenes shown in the media were not at all representative of the behavior of the overwhelming majority of those on either side of this historic day.
It was abundantly obvious that January 20th meant a great deal to many people. Hundreds of thousands flocked to Washington to support our new president, and many sought to voice their discontent. No matter the level of disagreement between supporters and protesters, neither group traveled to D.C. intent on changing people’s minds. I was shocked by the respectful nature with which a woman in a “Make America Great Again” hat greeted a woman with “F*** TRUMP” and Women’s March pins on her jacket. Though from this interaction a policy debate did not ensue, each woman realized that the election was over, and neither would have an impact on the personal beliefs of the other. Though these common and peaceable interactions did not make it onto prime-time news that evening, they were nevertheless significant to me and the countless others in our nation’s capital that day. I was warned by family and friends not to attend the inauguration in fear of angry protesters and rioters; in aggregate, such cautions were not required. These warnings were informed by the inflammatory scenes that make it onto television and social media. Politeness and civility ruled the day.
In the events preceding the inauguration ceremony, I was sure that the courteous behavior between supporters and protesters was indicative of the above-the-fray nature of D.C. residents who are accustomed to the hyper-partisanship of the capital. After conversing with a bubbly woman with a “God Bless Texas” sign and talking politics with an “I’m with her” group from San Francisco, it became abundantly obvious that the civility was not regional; it was not partisan – it is nationwide. Although it seldom seems this way within the various social, media, and cultural bubbles in which we live our lives, we are much more alike than we are different. At this point, to focus on the differences is to antagonize and agitate a “problem” without purpose.
In the opening hours of his presidency, Trump’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer raked the media over the coals for the perceived unfairness with which the media covered the inauguration. Although the controversy surrounding the crowd size is senseless, the critical nature of the news coverage of the inauguration suggests that reporters and news anchors are determined to maintain their slanted criticisms of the president. By no means am I suggesting that the press should censor themselves to steer away from criticizing the new administration, but a reporter should not disseminate their own personal opinion as settled fact.
The proper place for opinion is in editorial sections and political commentaries, not in reporting the news. It is the responsibility of journalists to report the experiences of the collective groups of those in attendance. However, we must ask ourselves if it is any surprise in this day and age that many reporters flocked to the isolated, violent protests to capture sensational images of crimes being committed. Some of the images of the skirmish showed several times more photographers than the actual assailants taunting the police – let this serve as evidence of the frenzy in which the media swarmed to the only scene that could support their preconceived dissatisfaction with the president.
I can personally attest to the pleasant nature with which the vast majority of all inaugural attendees treated each other. I saw how well President Trump’s inaugural speech was received by those in the crowds. I also saw the violent protests televised for hours and the unending denunciations of the inaugural address. The media should remain adversarial, but retain objectivity by presenting news without an ulterior motive. The press has the responsibility to simply report on the administration’s actions. The American people are not stupid; they do not need a news anchor to digest information and present it partially. Our government is designed to register public opinion – not media opinion. To cede control of your thoughts is to cede control of your government and this is a risk we must not take.