Van Ens: Is bashing alleged ‘biased media’ for ‘fake news’ justified? (column) |

Van Ens: Is bashing alleged ‘biased media’ for ‘fake news’ justified? (column)

Editor’s note: Find a cited version of this column at

The public press and President Donald Trump accuse each other of habitually lying. Who is right?

On Thursday, Aug. 17, more than 300 newspaper editorial boards expressed outrage against Trump’s attacks on the accuracy of the news media’s reporting. The next Friday morning, he tweeted, rebuking newspapers as “fake news media” and operating as a biased “opposition party” that wrongfully portrays him as a congenital liar.

Prior to this outburst, the president branded media “the enemy of the American people” and dismissed much of its coverage as “fake news.” As an example of reports smearing his reputation, Trump told reporters Paul Manafort, his former presidential campaign manager, was victim of a “witch hunt” after being convicted on eight criminal accounts.

Trump uses “witch hunt” as a catchall term of derision when referring to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian election meddling. Did the Trump campaign capitalize on this interference to influence 2016 presidential election results?

Referring to Manafort’s criminality, Trump responded to reporters in Charleston, West Virginia, on Aug. 21, “This has nothing to do with Russian collusion.” He went on, “This is a witch hunt that ends in disgrace. But this has nothing to do (with) how they started out, looking for Russians involved in our campaign. I must tell you that Paul Manafort’s a good man.”

Constantly branding the media’s questioning of his credibility as a “witch hunt,” the president reminds Americans of another tumultuous time in 1798. Then Thomas Jefferson referred to this contentious era as “a reign of witches” in a July 4, 1798, letter to Virginia pamphleteer John Taylor. President John Adams and the Federalist Party blocked dissent by prosecuting and jailing newspaper editors who supported Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party.

The Federalists railed against Roman Catholic Irish and French immigrants who applied for citizenship. Adams and cohorts argued that such low-class misfits would corrupt Protestantism and undercut law and order in America.

In the Alien Act, the Federalists lengthened from seven to 14 years the time that foreigners were forced to live in the United States before becoming citizens. Conservative politicians erected walls of animosity against the French and Irish to preserve their white, Protestant power-base rooted in northern European culture.

Headed by Adams and Alexander Hamilton, the Federalists also passed the Sedition Act, arguing that “the Constitution and the government it authorized were so fragile that their future depended on the individuals who made up government (that is, President John Adams’ administration). To allow anyone to destroy their reputations, or the reputation of the government, was to risk bringing down the whole constitutional system,” reports Jefferson’s biographer R.B. Bernstein (“Jefferson,” Oxford University Press, 2003, p.124).

Consequently, the Federalists jailed only newspaper editors and writers from Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party.

Today, most reporters in the public press dissent against Trump’s lies and half-truths. The president strikes back, dismissing as demonic diatribes what reporters expose.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus foreshadows Jefferson’s “reign of witches” imagery. He identities the source of lying: “Let what you say be simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’; anything more than this comes from the Evil One (the Devil)” (Matthew 5:37).

Is media spreading “fake news?” Or does President Trump spew a witches’ brew of deceit?

The Washington Post regularly updates its Truth Tracker on President Trump. As of July 31, 2018, it has tallied 4,229 false and misleading claims Trump has uttered since he became president. He averages 7.6 lies daily. On Thursday, July 5, he topped previous lying tallies, hitting a one-day record of 79.

“Chickens do come home to roost.” Spreading half-truths returns to condemn liars.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.

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