‘Everyone’s picking on me’ is not a response to criticism.
President Trump and one Youtube superstar have a couple things in common: They’re both looking down the barrels of massive scandals, and they’re both refusing to take responsibility for them.
Trump has been fighting fires left and right, following the abrupt resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and revelations from the New York Times that Trump aides had extensive contact with Russian intelligence officials during his campaign for president.
PewDiePie?—?a 27-year-old Swedish man whose real name is Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg and who has 53 million subscribers on YouTube?—?isn’t faring much better after The Wall Street Journal revealed nine instances of anti-Semitism in his videos.
PewDiePie’s biggest partners, YouTube and Disney, severed their ties with him in the wake of The Journal’s revelations.
Both Trump and PewDiePie have responded not by taking responsibility for themselves but by putting the blame back on the media.
In a video posted on his channel in response to the backlash, Kjellberg decried The Journal’s accusations as “an attack by the media to try and discredit me, to try and decrease my influence and my economic worth.” He qualified this with the baseless claim that “old school media doesn’t like internet personalities, because they’re scared of us.”
(NB: PewDiePie did apologize for one particularly damning video in which he hired two Indian men to hold up a sign that read “Death To All Jews,” but refused to offer any explanation other than he intended it as a joke and that people’s offense to it is something he will “keep in mind moving forward.”)
Compare PewDiePie’s attack on the media to statements Trump made during a press conference on Thursday, which was supposed to be about his new nominee for Labor Secretary but which quickly devolved into a rant about how the press is against him.
“The media’s trying to attack our administration,” Trump said at the briefing. “They know we are following through on pledges that we made and they’re not happy about it for whatever reason.”
See any similarities?
Until recently, both men had remained relatively unscathed by their respective scandals. Public shame did little to slow Trump’s rise to power. PewDiePie has long broadcasted in a bubble to an audience of fans who are often largely uncritical of him. Now that press coverage is finally creating some blowback, neither man is willing to acknowledge that there’s any truth in the accusations against him.
“Russia is fake news … this is fake news put out by the media,” says Trump.
“They [the media] blatantly misrepresent people for their own personal gain,” says PewDiePie.
The media’s most sacred duty is to act as a whistleblower in the face of unethical, illegal or immoral behavior. People are the watchdog of government only by way of a functioning Fourth Estate that properly informs them. Despite this, there’s a growing trend where bigots can play the victim, accuse the media of incompetence and have that be a sufficient enough response for them to avoid taking responsibility until the news cycle shifts and public attention shifts with it.
The problem with this is that it fails to hold guilty parties to any sort of ethical standard and thereby undermines the credibility of one of the only institutions standing between us and an Orwellian future where powerful individuals are beholden to no one.
This isn’t to say that we should just accept every story the media publishes. The advent of fake news has revealed the consequences of such blind acceptance, but the standard of ethics must be maintained. Without it, agents like PewDiePie and Trump can continue to create their own reality. And that’s a truly dangerous thing.