Studying journalism in college in the 1980s was interesting. Given that intersection of history and the available technology, practically everything I learned about the mechanics of information gathering was obsolete within just a couple of years of graduation. But that’s an article for another day.
Being tutored by outstanding Professors at Virginia Tech during the Reagan and Bush administrations also afforded me my first look at true die-hard liberals. I grew up in a fairly conservative household (surprise, surprise). But being from the South, there was a fair amount of Democratic support at the local and state level. Of course, the remnants of the Byrd Political Machine in Virginia were still quite active, meaning Democrats still controlled most of the General Assembly and Virginia’s Congressional Delegation. In the Danville-based Fifth District, our Congressman was Dan Daniel—a life-long Democrat. He was as conservative as they come. So the Democrat-versus-Republican label held little meaning for me going into college.
Once in College, I was immediately struck by how many of my Professors were VERY much opposed to President Reagan. I had not encountered wide-spread opposition to a clearly popular President who was beginning his second term. One of them (Whom I GREATLY respected) wrote a book entitled “The Prime Time Presidency of Ronald Reagan.” Dr. Bob Denton’s thesis was that Reagan was using live televised messages to the American people to “sidestep” the traditional press. He articulated that Reagan was masterfully using his training from movies, television and radio to speak directly to people, without having to rely on journalists to accurately disseminate the information. Clearly, it worked. Even his harshest critics stipulate that Reagan was the “Great Communicator.”
I’ve been reminded of Dr. Denton’s book each time I hear a member of the current mainstream media lament President-Elect Donald Trump’s fondness for Twitter. Yes, some of his Tweets have been outlandish. But how is it fundamentally different from what Reagan did in the eighties? It is a means of direct communication with the people; without having to rely on any filters (intentional or unintentional) applied by journalists. Like Reagan used television to conduct an end-around, Trump is using Twitter.
For the liberal readers among you, how is it fundamentally different from FDR’s “Fireside Chats” over radio? Again, his direct communication with the American people bypassed the need for an eager media to interpret and rebroadcast the information he sent to people first-hand.
Media mavens have historically been suspicious of newsmakers who avoid traditional channels of communication. It is the same reason autocratic rulers are suspicious of free speech. They cannot control it. My reaction to both is the same…tough sh*t.
By the way, it is important to note that during my years at Virginia Tech, not ONE Professor or student stridently opposed to Reagan required a Safe Space, crayons or Play-Doh. If they did, they sure as hell didn’t advertise it. That would have made them look like useless wimps.