Trump’s war on the media is a strategic blunder by Lawrence Martin

Jul 4, 2017

Source: Globe and Mail

Richard Nixon once told Henry Kissinger, “Never forget, the press is the enemy.”

His vice-president, Spiro Agnew, spearheaded the attack, using the goofy phrase “nattering nabobs of negativism” to impugn journalists of the day.

It caused an uproar. But compared with the assault on the media by Donald Trump and associates like Kellyanne Conway (or Conjob, as some call her), it’s mild and mellow stuff.

In this year of madness in American politics, Mr. Trump has made the body-slamming of media his foremost priority. The nattering nabob of narcissism spends more time obsessing over and denigrating journalists’ coverage than he does on issues of great import to the Republic, such as health care. These issues require labour of thought. It is not reputed to be one of his most favoured activities.

As Independence Day passed Tuesday with the renegade in power, the defier of convention poised with his thunderbolts, the high-stakes question was whether his presidency could hold up against the forces of a fourth estate determined to hold him to account.

Mr. Trump’s media assaults reached the level of the surreal in the past week, with his grimy insults of Morning Joe TV hosts and sharing of a cartoonish video showing him attacking a man at a World Wrestling Entertainment event. The man’s head was covered by a CNN logo.

The latter was so bizarre, so gonzo that it brought on suggestions that the President’s mental equipment might have undergone some recent dislodging.

More likely, Mr. Trump has a good sense of what he is doing. He is taking on the First Amendment, the part of the U.S. Constitution that says there shall be no abridging of the freedom of the press. Information control being the goal of all demagogues, Mr. Trump wants to Putinize the press, to subjugate it in the way the Russian President has.

Russia’s modern-day Vlad the Impaler is different. He is cold, calculating and informed. Mr. Trump evinces no such maturity. Much to the contrary, he appears, to borrow a phrase, to still be emotionally situated in the foothills of adolescence.

He has to be right, cannot concede error. Journalists have compiled great charts of his flat-out falsehoods and screaming contradictions. They can be checked against the record. They are astounding in number.

Mr. Trump’s defence is to say the media are wrong, that the scribes are making it up, that they are enemies of the people. Twitter allows him to surpass the press filter and declare his righteousness in bold terms. His incessant bashing appears to be having some effect, creating more believers in the narrative that the media are biased against him.

In waging this war, Mr. Trump will employ more weapons than the bully pulpit. He is cutting down on daily briefings and media access. He is using friendly publications such as The National Enquirer to do his bidding against journalists. Though he has Fox News, more echo chambers would help, and he may get rich friends to seed them.

In covering Mr. Trump, Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein is calling on journalists to resort to a different kind of reporting in response to what he calls a “malignant presidency” unlike any the country has seen before. He wants more aggression. Commentator Keith Olbermann says media should pay less attention to each and every manipulative Trump tweet. Quit playing his game. Mr. Trump needs coverage like a vampire needs blood. Cut back. Watch him wither.

But the big thing is for the media not to be intimidated. Mr. Trump has a lot of weapons in his arsenal, but the journalists have the better ones. They have verifiable facts and truths in greater abundance. They make mistakes, they have biases, as does everyone. But their record, certainly against his, holds up well to scrutiny.

They are more capable of getting at the truth than anyone. That’s why the renegade in power, standing on quicksand, fears a free press so much and attacks it so much. If he can’t stop it, it will stop him.

© Globe and Mail