Trump and me­dia feed off each other

Winnipeg Free Press - - THINK TANK - BOB COX

.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.

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