This week, I get the distinct feeling that the American press needs to read the book Who Moved My Cheese? They clearly don’t know how to handle change.
In Spencer Johnson’s thin book, he tells the story of four characters who live in a maze: the mice Scurry and Sniff, and two ‘littlepeople’, Hem and Haw. All is going well because they have found a huge source of their favorite food, cheese. Hem and Haw have even moved their houses to be near it since it has become the center of their lives. They don’t notice that it is getting smaller, and are devastated when find the cheese is gone.
This is where the story splits in two. Scurry and Sniff quickly accept the loss of the cheese and go off into the maze in search of other sources. The littlepeople, because they have built their lives around the big cheese, feel they are the victim of some kind of fraud or theft. Rather than helping their situation, it feeds their victimhood and assures they go hungry. Meanwhile, the mice find more cheese.
The fable captures that moment after we have lost a job or a relationship and we believe it is the end of the world. All the good things were in the previous situation, and all the future holds is fear. Yet Johnson’s message is, instead of seeing change as the end of something, we must learn to see it as a beginning. To make himself accept reality, Haw writes this on the wall of the maze: “If you do not change, you can become extinct.”
The media appears to be playing the part of Hem and Haw before Haw recognizes his need to change. This particular president of the United States isn’t treating them with the respect Obama did. He is instead returning their intense disrespect of him right back at them. He’s not scheduling press conferences around their calendars, but around his own. He argues with them when they’re rude.
They act like this is a horrible situation and aver that it is a sign that Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing. Go back in history, however, and you will see that government and the press have frequently been at odds with each other. I was trained in journalism courses at college that we were supposed to have contention between us. The job of a political reporter is to hold politicians’ feet to the fire.
Conversely, government should be highly suspicious of the press because the press is not their friend. Our modern media seem to have gotten used to the “big cheese” of occasional press conferences where the President answered their questions as if they had a right to the answers. Their cheese has been moved.
They need to get over it. Just because Trump isn’t acting like Obama — who was rarely challenged by the press — doesn’t mean he’s evil or in crisis or incompetent. It simply means that he not bound by the behavior of previous administrations.
Go look for new cheese. Learn new (or really old) ways of doing your job. Stop acting like the change in the air is the burning of the world. Change can be painful for those who fight it. Sometimes there are principles worth fighting for, but the methods of the modern presidential press conference is not one of them.