For democracy to survive in the 21st century in the United States, Americans need news media to tell them what is right and what is wrong, not news media taking the easy, profitable click-bate road of sensational headlines.
A n American President proclaiming election fraud, several American state legislatures needlessly recounting the official results of legally cast votes and in some cases unsuccessfully trying to disqualify those legally cast votes, and American citizens attempting an insurrection on Capitol Hill to prevent the transfer of power had all Americans concerned about one-person-one-vote-counted democracy dysfunction, but the recent Trump and Biden classified document discoveries reveal a true democracy dysfunction that if not addressed will be the death of American democracy.
American democracy means that American federal, state, and local governments along with all their laws are of the people, by the people, and for the people. In order for that to be the case, the American people must make decisions and then express their will and desires to their elected representatives who then implement their will and desires, but most times in order for the American people to make their decisions they need the help of a trusted informative referee. The founding fathers envisioned, and the American Constitution they wrote assigned informative referee duties to the Fourth Estate, more commonly referred to as the press or news media.
Unfortunately, 247 years later the ugly side of American capitalism has transformed the founding father’s vision of the Fourth Estate being the informative referee, to the Fourth Estate being a profit center for corporations first and America’s informative referee second. The profit motive has changed the news media’s old business model of profits from disseminating factual information and being an informative referee. To profit from conflict and negativity by being Don King hype-like fight promoters. The way the news media has covered, or fight promoted, the discovery of classified documents among the personal papers of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden is a textbook example of news media democracy dysfunction.
The first indication that the Trump/Biden classified document story is a democracy dysfunction of sensational click-bate headlines and ratings for the news media, and not about informing Americans with facts, is the news media presenting the false story implying that either Trump or Biden has personally done something wrong, by placing or having the classified documents among their personal papers. Both men relied on the time-honed process used every 4 or 8 years for departing presidential administrations, where federal government employees plan, supervise, and perform the task of packing up everything associated with a departing administration.
The fact that classified and non-classified federal government documents ended up among the personal papers of both Trump and Biden should indicate to both the news media and the federal government, that the time-honed process of packing up a former President’s or former Vice President’s records is consistently flawed and should be blamed, scrutinized, and revamped. Neither Trump nor Biden should be held accountable for a process they had no direct involvement with.
Neither Trump nor Biden had any HANDS-ON nor SUPERVISORY INVOLVEMENT in the process of packing up their personal belongings or the documents associated with their government service. The news media knows this but they also know the more sensational story that attracts higher ratings is one that implies the personal wrong-doing of both a former President and a sitting President. The only reason that former Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush #41, Clinton, Bush #44, and Obama don’t have the same classified document problem is that they all did something Trump did not and Biden could not, on their first day in office they established a legal entity to plan and accept funds for their future presidential libraries, which meant during their last days of service all documents associated with them were packed up for one final destination, their presidential library.
A presidential library is one large organization that has 2 separate independent organizations operating within it. One is a private foundation funded by the private funds of whatever person, regardless of American citizenship, whatever foreign government, and whatever corporation, American or foreign, chooses to donate to support the post-presidential activities of a former President. The other is the U.S. taxpayer-funded and government-employee-operated organization that stores, maintains, and administers the rules of access to all documents associated with the former president’s administration, in other words, presidential libraries are satellite locations of the National Archives (NA).
This is a win-win for both a former president and the U.S. government. The NA doesn’t have to keep expanding its Washington D.C. footprint to accommodate millions of new documents every time a President leaves office, and former presidents get the same access to their administration documents that Donald Trump claimed he was entitled to when classified letters, from the North Korean President Kim Jong Un, were found illegally in his possession absent of NA management and oversight.
Whenever a sitting President receives a gift from a foreign leader or country, regardless if the gift was given with the intent of it being a personal gift to the person that is President, by law the gift automatically becomes a gift to the United States stored at the NA. Having a satellite location of the NA within a presidential library allows the former President and his library to store, have access to, and display the gift to the public. Aside from the democracy dysfunction sin of choosing ratings and profit over properly informing Americans, the false narrative of personally blaming Trump and Biden for something they didn’t participate in sets up the next round of click-bate faux controversy, the false equivalence narrative, that Biden’s classified document transgression is equal to Trump’s.
The headline story shouldn’t be blaming either Trump or Biden, for inadvertently ending up with classified documents among their personal papers due to third party staff human error, the headline story should be about what happened after classified documents were discovered among their personal papers. Since the NA has a time-honed process of collecting and maintaining documents of past administrations, its internal procedures alerted them to the fact that past Trump administration classified documents that should be in their possession, were not.
When the NA first approached Trump in May 2021 about documents they knew were illegally in his possession at his Mar-a-Lago estate, he resisted turning them over until January 2022, 8 months later. Among the 15 boxes of presidential records, Trump finally turned over were 100 classified documents totalling more than 700 pages. 5 months later, in June 2022, the NA had to return to Mar-a-Lago with a grand jury subpoena for additional documents Trump refused to turn over. At this point, Trump falsely claimed he had no more classified documents. The NA knew this to be a lie and 2 months later, the U.S. Justice Dept. successfully sought permission from a federal judge, for the FBI to execute a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago. The search warrant yielded additional documents and was the first time in American history that a former president’s home was searched as part of a criminal investigation.
On the other hand, Biden, with no request from the NA, voluntarily executed searches at all locations where his vice presidential papers are stored, most likely based on the idea that if third party human error occurred in Trump’s case, let’s check to see if the same occurred in Biden’s case, and invited the Department Of Justice (DOJ) to Biden’s Delaware home where it conducted a 13-hour search that yielded 6 more documents, some of which were classified. The Biden searches have revealed many fewer classified documents than were found in Trump’s possession, and the documents found from searches conducted voluntarily by Biden’s lawyers were immediately and voluntarily turned over to the NA.
Trump resisted and lied to the point that a federal judge issued a search warrant for the FBI to search his Mar-a-Lago estate for documents, Biden, with a request from no one, voluntarily searched his papers for documents he shouldn’t have and invited the DOJ to conduct a 13-hour search means there is no equivalence to Trump, Trump being found with literally hundreds of classified documents illegally in his possession, and Biden being found with literally tens of classified documents illegally in his possession means there is no equivalence to Trump.
But the temptation of high TV ratings and millions of internet headline clicks from creating a fake equivalence, by using language like the New York Times headline, Investigators Seize More Classified Documents From Biden’s Home, implying resistance from Biden instead of the more accurate language of Biden Invites Federal Investigators To Search His Home is too much for a democracy dysfunctional news media to resist.
The Fourth Estate’s democracy dysfunction is the last thing Americans need now, Americans need a creditable Fourth Estate informative referee, not a Don King Fourth Estate fight promoter of controversy and negativity. A Fourth Estate estate informative referee that can reveal both the truth and lies of Democrat and Republican Party spin is desperately needed in America’s political arena. The fact that the Washington Post can accurately report that Donald Trump told 30,573 lies as President, but can’t accurately report how many times Trump told the truth, reveals how bad the Fourth Estate’s democracy dysfunction has become.
For American democracy to survive in the 21st century, the United States must have a creditable Fourth Estate informative referee who tells Americans too busy with life who’s right and who’s wrong. Not a Fourth Estate news media whose operating principle is to take the easy profitable click-bate road of sensational headlines that just report the negativity and controversies of opposing sides, while leaving it up to Americans to decipher between fact and headline-hyped fiction to decide for themselves.
— AUTHOR —
▫ Isaac Newton Farris Jr., Nephew of Martin Luther King Jr, he serves as Senior Fellow at King Center. Growing up in one of the most socially & politically active families has given him a unique perspective on current events.
▪ Text: This piece was originally published in Isaac Newton Farris’ blog and re-published in PMP Magazine on 25 January 2023, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
▪ Cover: Adobe Stock/fotomek.