By Robyn Banks

Two weeks ago, Donald Trump signed an executive order bringing an end to the separation of undocumented migrant children from their parents. This was widely reported in the mainstream press as a win for those had publicly campaigned against this policy. But just saying that doesn’t make it so. The executive order did bring an end to the separation of children from their parents, but there has been no commitment to reuniting the families already separated. Children previously taken from their parents are being kept in camps in the Texan desert, while families crossing the border since the executive order are being transferred to ICE ‘Family Detention Centres’, which have extremely limited capacity. Whilst this was picked up by smaller media outlets and on social media, many in the mainstream press didn’t acknowledge these complications, focusing only on the initial ‘win’.

Seeming to give ground in this way is an intentional tactic designed to confuse any opposition that the Trump administration may face. By letting their opponents believe they have achieved a significant win, without actually taking any concessions on policy or changing any behaviour, the administration can engineer the demobilisation of that opposition.

Adam Curtis highlights similar tactics in his documentary Hypernormalisation. In it he demonstrates how Putin has managed to retain power in Russia despite continual public unrest and dissatisfaction with his rule. One of Putin’s top advisors, Vladislav Surkov, notoriously employs tactics that involve publicly supporting opposition groups whilst also publicly supporting Putin, making it impossible to tell who the opposition actually is and frustrating attempts to build popular support for any challenge to Putin’s tight grip on power. This tactic, whilst not being deployed with the same skill as in Russia, is being used in the US with the unwitting support of mainstream media outlets.

This style of reporting plays right into the administration’s hands

The mainstream liberal media are often too quick to jump on the supposed successes of their reporting, without looking at the full picture of the administration’s action on the ground. This means that when the president announces a supposed change of course, usually ‘fake news’ of some kind, those who follow mainstream liberal media output demobilise, leaving only small groups to continue to campaign against these issues. This style of reporting plays right into the administration’s hands. As in Putin’s Russia, by the time opposition groups fully mobilise the administration appears to have made a change of course, leaving them as easy pickings for pro-establishment media to vilify as ‘snowflakes’ or ‘crisis actors’, undermining their action.

This rollercoaster ride of bad news becoming good news becoming bad news again only serves to burn out the hard working activists fighting to bring the despicable actions of the administration into public knowledge. Mainstream liberal media is letting down its followers and contradicting its own principles. If they really want to stand up to Trump, they need to be reporting the full story of the treatment of migrant families, and other issues, not just leaping at the first chance they get for happy resolution when Trump offers them his latest soundbite. If they chose to deprioritise the constant recycling of government positions that the 24 hour news cycle tempts them towards, they would be better positioned to attack the administration and avoid spreading the fake news and confusion it seeks to spread. This may take a systematic change in the way that the media operates, but without it they merely play into the hands of the very government they purportedly seek to undermine.

Featured image credit: Jean Beaufort

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