Donald Trump Continues His Unhinged War On The News Media
Instead of attending the White House Correspondents Association Dinner last night, Donald Trump took his show on the road where he continued his long-standing attacks on the press. Unfortunately, it's a message that resonates with his supporters.
Much as he did last year, President Trump skipped the White House Correspondents Association Dinner in favor of another one of his campaign-style propaganda rallies at which he once against lashed out against the media:
For the second consecutive year, President Donald Trump vilified the American press at a campaign-style rally orchestrated to effectively counter-program an annual dinner in Washington, D.C., celebrating the work of White House journalists.
“These are very dishonest people, many of them. They are very, very dishonest people,” Trump said at a boisterous event in Washington, Mich., speaking in front of a blue banner emblazoned with the president’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
“Fake news. Very dishonest,” he added. “They don’t have sources. The sources don’t exist in many cases.”
There was little doubt Trump would again assail members of the media after his performance at last year’s rally in Harrisburg, Pa., where the new president denigrated the “Hollywood actors and Washington media” who were “consoling each other” at the concurrent White House Correspondents’ Association’s dinner.
“Is this better than that phony Washington White House correspondents thing? Is this more fun?” Trump said to resounding applause.
“I could be up there tonight smiling like I love when they’re hitting you, shot after shot. These people, they hate your guts,” he added. “And you know, you got to smile. And if you don’t smile, they say, ‘He was terrible. He couldn’t take it.’ And if you do smile, they’ll say, ‘What was he smiling about?’ You know, there’s no win.”
Trump’s roughly 90-minute speech in Michigan — peppered with red meat and reliable targets including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and California sanctuary cities — capped a week of outbursts from the president over a series of scandals involving his Cabinet and an intensifying federal investigation into his longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
In a fundraising email on Wednesday for his 2020 re-election campaign, Trump plugged “The REAL event on 4/28,” and explained his reasoning for abstaining from the dinner.
“My staff asked, “Mr. President, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is coming up. Will you go?'” Trump wrote. “I said, ‘Why would I want to be stuck in a room with a bunch of fake news liberals who hate me?’ I came up with something much better. I’m going to hold a rally in Michigan to spend the evening with my favorite deplorables who love our movement and love America!”
This latest attack, while unsurprising, is unnerving in the sense that it comes at the same time that a new poll shows that a majority of Republicans agree with the President’s contention that the news media is the “enemy of the American people”:
Last month, Quinnipiac University’s pollsters asked Americans if they agreed with the sentiment Trump expressed in [a February 2017 tweet in which he described the news media as the “enemy of the American people”]. Were certain news outlets — unnamed by Quinnipiac — enemies of the American people? Nearly 4 in 10 said yes — including more than 8 in 10 Republicans.
In a poll released Thursday, Quinnipiac was more direct.
Less than a quarter of the public says that the news media broadly are better described as an “enemy of the people” than an “important part of democracy.” But among Republicans, more than half preferred the former term to the latter.
Granted, there was a limited set of options from which to choose. The question wasn’t “Are the media the enemy of the people?” but “Which is a better descriptor?” It’s still remarkable, though, that so many in Trump’s party think that “enemy” is more accurate than “important part of democracy.”
Here’s a chart showing the breakdown in the responses to Quinnipiac’s March poll:
And here’s the breakdown from the poll released last week:
Basically what we’re seeing here is that a majority of Republicans believe that the news media is “the enemy of the American people,” just as the President said back in February of last year.
This isn’t entirely Trump’s doing, of course, he’s merely done a very good job of grabbing on to a cudgel that has been popular on the right for decades and which clearly still exists today. There may have once been some truth to this accusation in the days when television news was limited to three networks and radio was shackled to a so-called “Fairness Doctrine” that clearly violated the First Amendment. However, it didn’t take long for “media bias” to expand beyond legitimate media criticism into partisan hackery. Beginning with the rise of talk radio in the 1990s, the attack on the so-called “mainstream media” expanded to include the claim that any negative reporting about conservatives was evidence of bias, while numerous instances that clearly disproved the notion that the media didn’t report negatively about Democrats was ignored. This became especially true during the Clinton Presidency when it was the supposedly biased media that was responsible for the dissemination of much of the most damaging information about Clinton’s Presidency ranging from Whitewater and the Rose Law Firm billing records to the Lewinsky Affair. Instead, according to the “biased” news media meme, the media was engaged in an effort to cover up Clinton’s alleged “crimes” while engaging in nothing but attacks against conservatives. This phenomenon continued into the Bush Administration and Obama Administration and has been reinforced even as the media has fractured to the point where there are numerous cable and online news sources that clearly have a conservative point of view. This includes not just Fox News Channel, but also sites such as The Daily Caller, Town Hall, The Blaze, and others, along with blogs that receive hundreds of thousands of hits per day such as Hot Air and National Review’s The Corner. Of more concern, we’ve seen the rise of extreme sites on the right that have arguably grown in influence such as Breitbart, World Net Daily and the conspiracy theory-laden websites run by Alex Jones.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t some merit to media criticism that comes from both the right and the left. In the era when the news business was dominated by three broadcast news networks, for example, it was fairly obvious that the American public was getting news, and analysis, that favored own point of view over others. It’s also likely still true that most of the reporters in the print and broadcast media are “liberal” or at least lean to the left side of the political spectrum. To a large degree, though, it seems apparent that the bias we see today isn’t an ideological so much as it is geographical. Most reporters and pundits reside either in the Boston-New York-Washington corridor or on the West Coast, meaning the news coverage we get often ends up placing emphasis on news and points of view that fall within the viewpoints of those parts of the country. One of the benefits of the expansion of what constitutes news, and the availability of different news sources on cable, though, is that viewers aren’t limited in their news consumption to just what’s provided by people living in those areas. The are downsides to this fracturing of the news monopoly, of course, especially to the extent that it means that people are tending to only get news from sources that agree with their points of view, but if you’re willing to broaden your news consumption you can now get access to news, opinion, and analysis from a wide variety of viewpoints and a wide variety of areas. For the most part, that’s a good thing.
Despite all of that, the general belief on the right that the media is “biased” against them and continues, and Donald Trump stepped into the middle of that and instinctively grabbed on to it. Attacks on the media were a common part of his rhetoric during his campaign for President, and it was often the case that his rallies would turn into nothing more than rants by him against the media which were wildly cheered by a crowd that would then turn their ire toward the reporters giving him the media coverage he so obviously craved. As I noted at one point Trump displayed a contempt for the press that was unique for a candidate for high office and which included actions such as sometimes randomly blocking leading media companies such as The Washington Post and newspapers such as the Des Moines Register from receiving press credentials to cover his events. On other occasions, he openly talked about expanding libel laws to allow more lawsuits against media organizations and other steps that were nothing less than open attacks on the First Amendment. He’s also stated that media organizations should be punished for reporting leaked information from inside the government. Finally, of course, there’s the fact that Trump’s ongoing attacks on the media in general and on specific reporters pose the danger of encouraging someone to actually commit an act of violence against a member of the media. All of this poses unique challenges to the entire concept of freedom of the press in the Trump Era.
What was a clown show while he was a candidate, though, has turned into something far more serious now that he’s President. A President who calls the news media the “enemy of the American people” is a President who, quite simply, cannot be trusted with power. These are the words of an authoritarian dictator, not the words of the leader of a republic with a Constitution where freedom of speech and of the press are not only enshrined in our Constitution but are also the very lifeblood of American democracy. The fact that it has been reported that the Trump Administration had multiple contacts with Russia during the campaign is most certainly real news, especially in light of what we already know about Russian hacking and apparent efforts to influence the election itself apparently in Trump’s favor. At the very least, these allegations need to be investigated both by law enforcement and by Congress in a fair and efficient manner. If it weren’t for someone reporting this, we wouldn’t know about it. Just like if it weren’t for reporters we wouldn’t have known about Watergate, or Iran-Contra, or the reports that Hillary Clinton was taking the extraordinary step of using a private email server while Secretary of State. All of these stories were broken first by what the so-called President is calling the “fake” news media.” This is why I agree with Thomas Jefferson. Given the choice between government without newspapers and newspapers without a government, I will choose the latter. In reality, of course, we don’t want to live in either a world where there is no government or one where there are no newspapers (i.e., news media). They are both essential to the survival of a free society, but as long as we have a government, we need a free and independent media that isn’t being intimidated by a wannabe dictator in the White House. There are two sides in this war between Trump and the media, but only one of them is the right side.