The late legendary White House correspondent Helen Thomas (1920-2013), whom I was so deeply honored to have in my employ in the last year of her storied professional career, breaking barriers to women and covering the White House since 1961, wrote eloquently in her 2006 book, Watchdogs of Democracy, The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public.
A scathing critique of her journalistic colleagues for their failure to take then President George W. Bush to task at the time, she wrote, “What makes the press so indispensable in a democracy is that it is the only institution in our society that can question the president, or other public officials, regularly,” adding, “A free society depends on the press to keep the government honest.”
She was always wary that any time a leader is unchallenged by the media, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is at risk.
Whether journalists are any better at living up to her high standard in the face of the Donald Trump’s behavior today remains to be seen, but there are some good signs.
Yes, as confessed Lenin-admirer Steve Bannon said from the White House, Trump’s enemy is the press. It’s true for the necessarily adversarial relationship between the media and the public officials they cover, although often there can be cordial if not cautious constructive relations. But it is doubly important that the press stands apart when a public official is perpetually lying.
Unfortunately, it took an entire year of primary and presidential campaigning and swearing into the White House for the press to even begin to get the idea that Trump needed to be dealt with only from the highest and uncompromising standpoint of truth-telling and a brave, ruthless insistence on that standard.
Granted, it is hard for honest people to grasp the nature of a pure, lying sociopath in someone they’re dealing with. The first step is to acknowledge that difficulty.
It is becoming increasingly clear to this observer that the Trump administration is determined to treat the nation as if it were a cult. This makes sense since the Russian model of foreign influence includes the establishment and maintenance of severely authoritarian, mind-bending cults.
Lying, the projection of an alternative reality and then challenging the veracity of other versions of the truth, is essential to cults, as Steve Hassan, author of the best-selling Combatting Cult Mind Control, has documented with the benefit of his extensive research.
So, Trump’s lies are not primarily because of a personality disorder (though that’s there), but of Bannon’s bidding to sow confusion and demand loyalty to his version of the truth from his most loyal followers, those who voted for and continue to slavishly believe in him.
The more he repeats lies, the more his true believers believe them. That’s the opposite from the view that the more he lies, the more no one will believe him.
I am acutely familiar with this because I was in the orbit of a cult, myself, in the 1970s into the 1980s, and it’s people like Leah Remini with her explosive expose of the cult of Scientology who are making it easier for others to heal remaining psychological wounds from such cults.
I was associated with the once-leftist but then the right-wing pro-KGB cult of Lyndon LaRouche, who is now peeing all over himself with glee for the Trump presidency. It was generally overlooked in the Russian intelligence officer’s expose of Trump’s golden shower escapades last month that LaRouche was named in the memo along with Jill Stein as invitees to Moscow prior to the election.
In an ill-conceived “deal” that became known as “detente” under Nixon in the early 1970s, KGB assets were invited to the U.S. to take over the urban mob scene, on one hand, and residues of leftist and pro-labor sects on the other, engineering in both a sharp ideological right turn. In one swoop, Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI were able to torpedo the influence of these perceived enemies.
The pressure on the FBI’s James Comey to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign last fall needs to be investigated from this standpoint.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected].