Trump’s me­dia tiff goes transat­lantic

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - KATH­LEEN PARKER kath­leen­parker@wash­post.com

Many Amer­i­can jour­nal­ists and oth­ers cor­rectly ob­jected to Pres­i­dent Trump’s lam­bast­ing of the U.S. me­dia in his news con­fer­ence Thurs­day in Poland, not­ing that his words were dam­ag­ing to our in­ter­na­tional sta­tus and democ­ra­cies around the world.

Richard Haass, pres­i­dent of the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions, tweeted that Trump “di­lutes re­spect for Amer­i­can democ­racy & gives li­cense to au­to­crats to crack down on their own me­dia.” Haass was also crit­i­cal of Trump’s den­i­grat­ing of the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity.

How dare the pres­i­dent di­min­ish his coun­try’s revered in­sti­tu­tions (please, hold your laugh­ter un­til the end) while abroad? Clearly, the man is a bit­ter, nar­cis­sis­tic au­to­crat, one would have been jus­ti­fied in think­ing.

Then Fri­day, as the world turned to­ward the much-an­tic­i­pated meet­ing be­tween Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Trump, it seemed the me­dia were, with­out much self-aware­ness, com­mit­ting the same sins for which they’d blasted Trump — ba­si­cally un­der­min­ing the pres­i­dent on for­eign soil.

There was no mis­tak­ing a neg­a­tive trend among com­men­ta­tors as they imag­ined what might tran­spire be­tween the two world lead­ers. If the me­dia weren’t con­sciously try­ing to un­der­cut the pres­i­dent’s author­ity while he was overseas, then un­con­sciously, they were do­ing a pretty good job.

No won­der Trump vot­ers hate us. It would seem that even his harsh­est crit­ics could have found ways to high­light his likely suc­cess than broad­cast to the world the many rea­sons why he’d prob­a­bly fail. Karma sug­gests at least this much. More­over, it’s hard to claim the moral high ground when one is guilty of same. Be­sides, isn’t it writ­ten some­where in The Hu­man Hand­book that you can pile on your brother in your own back­yard, but not when he’s in some­one else’s. Fi­nally, love or hate him, Trump is still the only pres­i­dent we have. When he’s trav­el­ing abroad as this week to the Group of 20 sum­mit, his suc­cess and fail­ures be­long to us as well.

I don’t mean to sug­gest we scribes and pun­dits should have been a cheer­ing squad, some­thing Trump seemed to have taken with him to War­saw. But it’s im­por­tant to fairly con­sider why jour­nal­ists are in such dis­fa­vor among a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans. Is Trump’s ag­gres­sive­ness to­ward the me­dia, to some ex­tent, earned? He’s not the first pres­i­dent to dis­like the Fourth Es­tate, but he may be the pres­i­dent most dis­liked by the me­dia since Richard Nixon.

As it turned out, Trump’s meet­ing went well enough with our prin­ci­pal geopo­lit­i­cal ad­ver­sary (hat tip: Mitt Rom­ney). No ca­nines were pa­raded to es­tab­lish whose dog was “big­ger, stronger, faster,” as Putin once bragged to Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush upon pre­sent­ing his hound in Rus­sia. (Putin had met Bush’s Scot­tish ter­rier on one of his vis­its to the United States.) No one ripped off his shirt to wres­tle a tiger.

Trump did re­port­edly bring up the hack­ing of the U.S. election, and the two did dis­cuss Syria. Both top­ics were the source of much spec­u­la­tion be­fore­hand: If Trump didn’t bring up the hack­ing, then Putin, who ad­mires power, would feel the vic­tor and Trump would be guilty of dere­lic­tion of duty. This, more or less, was the over­ar­ch­ing con­sen­sus. Ex­cept­ing only those who gather in the Fox News green rooms, Trump was pre­dicted to fail in his first meet­ing with Putin.

Or, did we in the me­dia hope he would fail? This is a ques­tion ev­ery hon­est jour­nal­ist must ask him­self or her­self. Let’s be hon­est: If Trump didn’t stand up to Putin — and sev­eral sce­nar­ios in­volv­ing a fire hy­drant sug­gest them­selves — then crit­ics’ early warn­ings about his dan­ger­ous in­ad­e­qua­cies would have been con­firmed. If he did well, or emerged with some value gained, well, it’s a good thing shov­els are cheap. Many of us have dug some cav­ernously deep holes.

Let me be clear: I’m not a fan. But this doesn’t mean I don’t want Trump to be a suc­cess­ful pres­i­dent. He has given Amer­i­cans and the world few rea­sons to ad­mire, re­spect or trust him, thanks to his im­petu­os­ity. But ad­mit­tedly, we jour­nal­ists don’t spend much time look­ing for pos­i­tives. Some would say, that’s not our job. Hold­ing the pow­er­ful ac­count­able is our job. While true, our suc­cess as a demo­cratic na­tion re­quires a bal­ance of con­tend­ing views.

As it is, we have me­dia out­lets for your view, my view and his view — with no sense of a shared Amer­i­can view. As wrong as I be­lieve Trump was to air his per­sonal griev­ances on the world stage, we are often wrong, too.

Some watched Trump’s Poland speech on Thurs­day and found it te­dious and mean­ing­less. Oth­ers heard him say: “The fun­da­men­tal ques­tion of our time is whether the West has the will to sur­vive. Do we have the con­fi­dence in our val­ues to de­fend them at any cost? . . . I declare to­day for the world to hear the West will never, ever be bro­ken, our val­ues will pre­vail, our peo­ple will thrive, and our civ­i­liza­tion will tri­umph.”

Th­ese were pow­er­ful, im­por­tant words, let the record show.

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