The president’s latest salvo against news media
There’s a certain appeal to business people who run for office. They know how to get things done — or so we like to think. However, government and business are different animals, and that divergence came to the fore with President Donald Trump’s notion to penalize NBC for its coverage of him.
NBC reported Wednesday that at a meeting with military leaders in July, Mr. Trump expressed a desire to increase the nation’s nuclear arsenal by a factor of 10. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, aghast at the notion, called the president a “moron” in a conversation with military officials after the meeting. Mr. Trump took to Twitter to criticize NBC and the other networks for “fake news” — something he does frequently — but he also went a step further this time by suggesting action against NBC’s “license.”
The network doesn’t have a license — stations affiliated with it do — but the president’s threat of retaliation came through loud and clear. He wasn’t finished, either. During a meeting Wednesday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Mr. Trump deemed it “frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write.” That isn’t entirely true, of course, but Mr. Trump never lets the facts detract from his bluster.
Business executives, as Mr. Trump was before becoming president, surround themselves with people who do as their told. In the topdown business world, the CEO sets the tone for an organization, and everyone falls into line — or else. Government doesn’t work that way. There are many voices pushing, pulling and otherwise exerting influence on the political process.
The mainstream press is one of those voices, and it never falls into line. It doesn’t say whatever it wants — there are ethical standards and libel laws to consider — but it has wide latitude to cover government with a zealousness many politicians dislike. Too bad for them. The First Amendment guarantees press freedom, and that is good for the republic no matter which party controls the White House or which person occupies it.
Though Mr. Trump is not the first elected official to rail against or want to reign in the press, he is thinner skinned than most, possibly because of his business background. Mr. Tillerson’s corporate background — he was the CEO of Exxon Mobil — may explain his own unease with the media. “I’m not a big media press access person,” Mr. Tillerson told the Indep e n d e n t Journal Review in March. “I personally don’t need it. I understand it’s important to get the message of what we’re doing out, but I also think there’s only a purpose in getting the message out when there’s something to be done.”
But one shouldn’t be serving as secretary of state — or in any government position — to serve one’s own needs. Government is the people’s business, and the media will be there to monitor it. If George Washington and Thomas Jefferson adjusted to media scrutiny, Mr. Trump and Mr. Tillerson most assuredly can, too.