MSNBC News Anchor Mika Brzezinski made what some considered to be a Freudian slip Wednesday when she declared it was the media’s job to control what people think.
In an exchange with co-host Joe Scarborough, Brzezinski said, “I think that the dangerous edges here are that he (Trump) is trying to undermine the media and trying to make up his own facts. …And he could have undermined the messaging so much that he can actually control exactly what people think. And that is our job.”
While Brzezinski quickly took to Twitter to say her comments had been misinterpreted, I believe there was far more truth in her comments than the mainstream media cares to admit. I had an opportunity to witness some heavy-handed media news choreography earlier in the week, when I attended a town hall meeting on illegal immigration here in Ponte Vedra. Attending the event purely as a Ponte Vedra resident and not in my capacity as editor of The Ponte Vedra Recorder, I was interested to hear what my neighbors thought about the new administration’s policies.
Hosted by FOX News anchor Martha MacCallum and broadcast live nationwide from the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, the event was promoted as a “live town hall” where local residents would have an opportunity to share their views on President Trump’s immigration policy. And yes, a handful of carefully pre-selected residents had an opportunity to do just that.
From the moment attendees were herded into the makeshift studio in color-coded groups and steered to specific seats, however, it was clear that this was not going to be a freewheeling, unscripted, open exchange of ideas among local residents. For seeded among the locals were a handful of guests who clearly had come prepared to speak in opposition to some or all of the Trump administration’s illegal immigration policies, among them, Mega TV anchor Elvira Salazar – who arrived with several pages of prepared remarks and her own makeup artist – and former Democratic National Committee staffer Pablo Manriquez, who currently works for a Washington, DC media firm. So much for hearing what the locals had to say.
Another carefully selected speaker named Hatice Iaconangelo – a German immigrant who now lives in Jacksonville – was seated right next to me. While most audience members chatted quietly before the broadcast, speculating as to how the event would unfold and who would get to speak, Iaconangelo displayed no such hesitancy. While sending a flurry of texts encouraging people to watch her on TV, Iaconangelo confidently told those seated around her that she was going to speak and had already provided background information on herself to the production team.
Glancing dismissively at the Ponte Vedra residents, Iaconangelo said, “You’re filler,” before returning to her texting.
True to her word, Iaconangelo was indeed called upon to speak – at which point her confident demeanor suddenly transformed into one of almost fearful timidity.
“I’m horrified, I’m horrified…I grew up with a wall,” she said, her voice quavering. “I know what a wall does to families. I witnessed people getting shot crossing over the wall.”
It was quite the performance – and no doubt the one producers were hoping she’d deliver. It was also an encore: Iaconangelo told the same story to the Florida Times-Union in January, when they interviewed her at a Jacksonville protest against President Trump’s illegal immigration policies.
It seems likely, therefore, that not only did FOX producers know that Iaconangelo was an anti-Trump activist, but that they invited her to participate in the Ponte Vedra town hall for that very reason. That’s unfortunate, because if producers had truly wanted to present an authentic town hall event that accurately reflected the feelings of Ponte Vedra residents on both sides of the illegal immigration issue, all they had to do was open the doors and shout outside, where a small group of Ponte Vedra residents was peacefully protesting the Trump administration’s policies. Why weren't those local residents given a chance to share their views on air?
By choosing instead to import DNC officials, news anchors and immigrant activists from outside the community – known quantities who could be counted upon to offer the views and perspectives producers wanted to include – FOX turned its “Ponte Vedra town hall” into little more than a picturesque backdrop for an already scripted national discussion.
And the Ponte Vedra residents in the audience? Iaconangelo was right. We were filler.
I believe FOX News had good intentions in hosting its local event and endeavored to present a fair discussion. Yet ironically, it was the network’s attempt to be scrupulously “fair and balanced” that resulted in a “town hall” meeting that was not only staged, but in no way representative of the true sentiments of Ponte Vedra residents. By a show of hands in the room, about 80 percent of attendees strongly supported the Trump administration’s actions, yet at least half of the on-air time – or more – was given to those who could be relied upon to espouse an anti-Trump viewpoint.
When the media stops reporting the facts as they are and begins presenting the views it believes should be heard, is it any wonder that half the country was blindsided by Donald Trump’s election? After all, hadn’t the media told them he had no chance of winning?
True town hall meetings are unscripted, often chaotic and the epitome of democracy. And democracy is messy. Instead of trying to sanitize that mess and control the message, the mainstream media would do well to return to its original mission of reporting the news, not controlling it, and let the chips fall where they may.
Jennifer Logue is managing editor of The Ponte Vedra Recorder.