My initial reaction to President Trump’s call earlier this week for the creation of a new, state-run global-news network was: “Wait. Don’t we already have that?”
We do. Sort of.
In the midst of World War II, the U.S. government created Voice of America (VOA) to transmit pro-U.S. propaganda to German citizens who might want a different view than the messages being broadcast by Josef Goebbels and the Nazi information machine.
Following the war, VOA morphed into a global network with a principal aim of countering the pro-Soviet narrative with one of our own.
Today it takes the form of the United States Agency for Global Media, with a network including VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio and TV Martí, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.
If that isn’t enough, Trump can turn to commercial networks like Fox News and the right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group to more dutifully toe the White House line.
Earlier this week, the Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani revealed that the president’s favorite cable-news show, Fox & Friends, shared its interview questions in advance with Trump’s then-EPA chief Scott Pruitt, and even allowed him to edit the script before going on air to further soften the softballs coming his way.
Also this week, the Sinclair Broadcast Group forced its nearly 200 local-television stations to air “must-run” segments defending the U.S. Border Patrol’s use of teargas against asylum seekers gathering at the border with Mexico.
So what’s really behind Trump’s call for more pro-Trump news? Doesn’t he already have enough?
It may simply be another way for him to poke CNN, a favorite target in his ongoing war against journalism.
Or the president may be planning his own future.
Trump may be toying with the idea of heading up a “worldwide network” after leaving the White House. His tweets could very well be a trial balloon to the Mercers and Adelsons of the world who might finance such a venture.
Sounds far-fetched? Not if you consider Trump’s 24–7 obsession with the media and how they portray him. What better way to indulge your planet-sized narcissism than as the head of a global-news network, able to dictate coverage of world events and place yourself at their center.
So when Trump tweets about “the possibility of the United States starting our own Worldwide Network to show the world the way we really are,” he may be less concerned with sharing the “truth” that makes America great than with spreading the narrative that makes the Donald superhuman.
For Trump, “Make America Great Again” is just a slogan. His lifelong goal seems to be securing a place in history as a man without equal, whose words are truth and actions are unimpeachable.
As head of a media empire, he’d have no better place to pound away at that narrative — and against anyone who challenges it.
Fireside Chats and the Fiction of Reality
Trump isn’t the first U.S. leader to suggest creating a state-media outlet. In fact, at least one of his predecessors put that idea into practice .
Years before the United States created the VOA, President Franklin D. Roosevelt used the new media of the time, radio, to create his own program and put his take on political issues before a national audience.
Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats were recorded by the Library of Congress and aired 30 times, attracting more listeners nationwide than the most of the popular radio shows of the time.
“It’s a reminder that the power of media does not go automatically to those who are just or right, but to those who understand the affordances of the media and can wield its power most effectively,” writer An Xiao Mina said in a recent speech.
Mina adds that the battle has always been over who controls the narrative, over who gets to create the “fiction of reality.” Trump just has a larger array of tools — including social media — to do that with.
“Because narrative shapes world views, it’s world views that shape our understanding of the facts and how we interpret the facts,” Mina says. “We need to pay a lot of attention to how this works.”
And who better to create the fiction of reality than a reality-TV star … who then became president of the United States.