THE first full work week of the year was animated by Donald Trump’s maiden media briefing since he was elected to be president of the United States.
Those who voted for Trump will definitely get what they wanted — a capsizing of the system, the destruction of the Obama legacy and a running reality television show in the White House.
For the media that have to report on the Trump presidency, it will be an utter nightmare judging by what happened at the briefing.
In addition to dealing with a hostile president who does not understand the role of the media, journalists will also have to make sense of Trump’s garbled ramblings.
Trump said he stopped holding media briefings because of “inaccurate news” when he obviously wanted to avoid answering questions about his conflicts of interest and the Russia hacking scandal.
He launched into an incoherent rant about drug companies, the people he is appointing into his administration and his upcoming inauguration.
“We’re going to create jobs. I said that I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created. And I mean that, I really — I’m going to work very hard on that. We need certain amounts of other things, including a little bit of luck, but I think we’re going to do a real job.”
When the question session began, the wheels really came off.
Trump dodged questions about whether there was contact between his campaign and the Russians, and undermined the U.S. intelligence community that will serve him.
Asked about claims that he was being blackmailed by the Russians over alleged sex escapades, Trump’s response was baffling. “I was in Russia years ago, with the Miss Universe contest, which did very well — Moscow, the Moscow area did very, very well. And I told many people, ‘Be careful, because you don’t wanna see yourself on television. Cameras all over the place.’ And again, not just Russia, all over.
Does anyone really believe that story? I’m also very much of a germaphobe, by the way, believe me.”
The most appalling part was Trump’s refusal to take questions from a CNN White House correspondent, saying: “Your organisation is terrible.”
The CNN reporter said Trump’s spokesperson Sean Spicer later threatened to expel him if he attempted to ask another question.
The warning lights are flashing that Trump will bully the media during his presidency and refuse to be held to account.
In an open letter to “my doomed colleagues in the American media”, Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev warned that Trump is using Vladimir Putin as his role model and will also try to turn the media into a propaganda tool.
“Facts don’t matter. You can’t hurt this man with facts or reason. He’ll always outmanoeuvre you … Whatever he says, you won’t be able to challenge him.
He always comes with a bag of meaningless factoids (Putin likes to drown questions he doesn’t like in dull, unverifiable stats, figures and percentages), platitudes, false moral equivalences and straight, undiluted bullshit,” wrote Kovalev.
A mainstay of Putin’s press conferences is, of course, the soft-ball questions. Which also happen to be Trump’s favourites. “Mr President, is there love in your heart? Who will you be celebrating New Year’s Eve with? What’s your favourite food?”
This might be what our very own Hlaudi Motsoeneng had in mind when he tried to espouse “patriotic journalism” at the SABC and warned the broadcaster’s journalists not to ask President Jacob Zuma difficult questions.
Hopefully, Motsoeneng’s ludicrous ideas will be the only attempt in South Africa to imitate the worrying trends in the U.S., Russia and Turkey to clamp down on media scrutiny.
We have been fortunate that attempts to curb media freedoms in our country, such as the introduction of the Secrecy Bill and a media appeals tribunal, have not succeeded.
In the era of Putin and Trump, we must keep our guard up and continue to ask the hard questions.
• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick.ranjeni.munusamy @gmail.com