Trump and media feed off each other
.S. President Donald Trump loves CNN. He most certainly does not want the New York Times to fail. And the Washington Post is doing fine by him.
You might think differently if you watched the news conference that Trump gave the day after the U.S. midterm elections. Trump tangled with CNN reporter Jim Acosta; later that day, Acosta’s press pass to the White House was revoked, making it impossible for him to gain access to the place he works.
Press secretary Sarah Sanders released a video clip that appeared to show Acosta delivering a karate chop with his left hand to the arm of a female aide as she tried to take a microphone from him. The clip had been altered. Run at proper speed, the video shows the arm of the aide brushed up against Acosta’s left arm as she reached across to try to take away the microphone. Acosta immediately said: “Pardon me, ma’am.”
It’s the latest skirmish in what Trump has turned into an ongoing war against traditional news media. His words are as nasty and harsh as ever heard from a U.S. president — the press is the true enemy of the people and journalists are liars, awful people who spread fake news.
But most of the news media are playing exactly
Uthe game Trump wants to play.
Trump’s formula is simple:
Step 1: Say the media can’t be trusted. He undermines the work of journalists who gather facts and present them to the public. He tells his supporters the media is not telling the truth about him. He is the only source of “truth” about what is going on.
Step 2: Lie. Trump continuously makes exaggerated claims about his accomplishments and utters falsehoods. He tells supporters they won’t see this in the media because the media does not report what is really going on. He knows the media will report what he says, and point out what is not true.
Step 3: Loudly proclaim, “I told you so.” Trump uses his unflattering portrayal in the news to prove that the media is out to get him, that it makes things up, that it spreads falsehoods, etc. This provides new justification to go back to Step 1, turn up the volume and use even more inflammatory language.
The result is that Trump has an opposition — the media — at all times. Trump’s strategy depends on having that opposition.
In politics, the media is the perfect opposition. For starters, it is not a single entity, but a broad group of independent organizations that compete against each other and never speak with a single voice. They have viewers and readers, but not a huge base of supporters to mobilize when attacked.
Individual reporters are like cats, going their own way, not overly interested in working together. Some voices have been raised in support of Acosta, but there has been no concerted attack on Trump.
This is an opposition that does not fight back. Most don’t consider fighting back because this is not their role. The media’s role is to report on the president, not find ways of undermining him.
Trump is far from the first politician to make the media the opposition. But Trump is the best and most high-profile practitioner of the craft.
It appears to be encouraging others. Think Doug Ford in Ontario. Even in Manitoba, we’ve seen Premier Brian Pallister threaten to sue the Winnipeg Free Press for its reporting and the Progressive Conservative party has sent fundraising letters to members urging them to give to help counter the lies the newspaper supposedly spreads.
It’s unfortunate because news media are watchdogs, not opponents. Politicians such as Trump confuse the two roles — interpreting legitimate questions as criticism and factual reporting as attacks.
Serious news media that are doing their job will continue to ask questions and report facts. They won’t fight back.
In fact, news media, especially TV, will continue to feed into the atmosphere that Trump fosters. They pay constant attention to what the president says and does, no matter how outrageous — in fact, the more outrageous, the better, to keep audiences.
As well, many shows are designed simply to create arguments between commentators who are either Trump supporters or opponents. The result is acrimony, not journalism that seeks to inform people.
It would be better to pay less attention, to stop giving Trump what he wants. But that’s unlikely to happen.