President Trump has taken to calling the media the “enemy of the people,” which has a slight Soviet ring to it. The behavior of the media since Trump’s 2016 campaign began has been shameful, but Trump’s remark — which has a considerable number of facts behind it — is far off base.
Trump’s front-page feud with the media began soon after he announced his candidacy. In the first Republican candidate debate, held in August 2015, then-Fox News star Megyn Kelly — in the first question directed toward Trump — blasted him with a feminist attack saying, “You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.” Instead of taking it in stride, Trump continued attacking her after the debate saying, “There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”
The Trump-media feud accelerated from that moment. He has benefited from it politically because his anti-media rants energize his voter base.
Trump often derides “fake news” but that isn’t a recent creation and Trump isn’t the first president to have an awful relationship with the press. Eric Burns’s invaluable book, Infamous Scribblers, uses for its title the words George Washington used to describe the newsmen of his day.
As Burns writes, many colonial newspapers were founded as ideological weapons, not for the purpose of informing the public. Newspapers loyal to the British Crown called Sam Adams’s Boston Gazette the “Weekly Dung Barge.” When Adams reported the Boston Massacre in 1770, he called it “bloody murder.” He wasn’t mollified after his cousin (and future president) John Adams defended the soldiers and got verdicts that exonerated the troops’ commander and gave the few convicted the lightest of punishments. When Sam Adams died, he was memorialized as “the Great Incendiary.”
In the 1930s, President Roosevelt’s greatest detractors were the Chicago Tribune, run by Col. McCormick, and the New York Daily News, run by McCormick’s cousin Robert Patterson. Both papers regularly ripped Roosevelt’s New Deal and pretty much every other political move he made.
In those days, newspapers were either Republican or Democrat. Growing up in New York, I quickly learned the obvious: the New York Times was a Democrat paper and the Daily News was a Republican paper. (The Daily News has since become one of the most strident, hyperliberal papers.)
The media used the Vietnam War to create the pretense that it is unbiased. The fact that television news brought the war into America’s living rooms every evening also made the news media vastly more powerful and egotistic. Lyndon Johnson reportedly said that he’d lost the Vietnam War the day that the highly trusted CBS News anchor, Walter Cronkite, came out against the war.
The modern era of fake news began with George W. Bush’s election in 2000. In September 2004, less than two months before the Bush-Kerry election, the high priest of fake news — Cronkite’s successor, Dan Rather — aired a 60 Minutes report which contended that President Bush got into the Texas Air National Guard because of political influence and that his officer evaluation reports gave him high marks despite his shirking of his duty. This was an obvious attempt to damage Bush’s candidacy and interfere in the election.
Within hours of the report, it became entirely clear that Rather’s report was based entirely on forged documents. CBS and Rather later issued a half-apology.
Such “reports,” attempting interference in elections, has become the norm for the American media and most of the world’s.
Trump’s point that the media are the enemy of the people has, as mentioned earlier, a basis in truth. Consider the New York Times’ actions after the 9/11 attacks.
In 2006, despite a presidential conversation with its publisher pleading with him to kill the story, the Times published a report divulging a top-secret NSA program that monitored telephone calls that was intended to find terrorists’ communications in and through U.S. telephonic communications systems. It portrayed NSA’s program as “domestic spying.” The reporter who wrote the story, James Risen, published a book on the subject, State of War, which was released on the same day as his Times story.
That story, and Risen’s book, damaged national security significantly. Publication of the NSA program caused terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, to change their methods and means of communication. It may have enabled bin Laden to hide until the 2011 raid by Navy Seal Team Six in which he was killed.
In 2010, I wrote about Brian Ross of ABC who published an untrue and highly misleading story about a company that provided the services of translators to our soldiers in Afghanistan. Like Risen’s story and book, it damaged our national security by spreading untruths about how our troops in Afghanistan operated.
Julian Assange, the creator of Wikileaks, has published tens of thousands of secret documents leaked by traitors such as Army Private Chelsea (née Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden. In 2017, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that Wikileaks functions as a hostile intelligence service by threatening democratic nations and siding with dictators. Pompeo was right, but that won’t stop Wikileaks or the other media from publishing our secrets.
Like Wikileaks, other online media — including social media — are hostile to our national security interests. Google recently refused to cooperate with the Pentagon on artificial intelligence. It had a perfect right to do so, but its hostility to national security is undeniable.
CNN’s blow-dried buffoon, Jim Acosta, has turned the daily White House press briefing by Sarah Huckabee Sanders into an exercise in self-aggrandizement. Acosta — and others — shout questions over other reporters’ and accuse Sanders of lying constantly.
Sanders has been attacked so often by the media, they have made her into a sort of celebrity villain to the left. She can’t even have a quiet dinner with relatives, instead facing and acquiescing in a demand to leave a Virginia restaurant. She is, as she said, the first White House press secretary to need Secret Service protection.
The media, ever since the Bush-Gore campaign recount (Bush was “selected not elected,” they insist), haven’t accepted as legitimate the election of any Republican president. The media are cheering Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump every day in hope that it will result in Trump’s impeachment.
Trump had a good point, but he lost track of it in the clash between his ego and the media’s. He is unable to bear any public criticism and takes to Twitter to respond to almost every slight. Why should the president of the United States care about what basketball player LeBron James says about him? But he does, and those tiny concerns apparently dominate his waking hours.
Because Trump is so sensitive and all too often has only a tenuous grasp on the truth (everything he does is “the biggest” or “the best ever”) he makes himself difficult to defend and even most in the conservative media don’t bother. Any constructive criticism of the president puts them on Trump’s enemy list and any such effort is drowned out by the media’s cacophony of bitter criticism of him.
The feud won’t end, even if the Mueller investigation ends without a big win for the Democrats in November and thus no prospect of Trump’s impeachment.
As long as the president takes the time to respond to every criticism, the media’s war against him won’t even end in 2024. That is, unless Trump is first re-elected in 2020 and succeeded by another Republican in 2024. At that point, whoever his successor is will be graded as better or worse than Trump.