Once asked by an aide to respond to a letter to the editor from one of his critics, Vladimir Lenin refused, saying: “Why should we bother to reply to Kautsky? He would reply to us, and we would have to reply to his reply. There’s no end to that. It will be quite enough for us to announce that Kautsky is a traitor to the working class, and everyone will understand everything.”
That has been the modus operandi of the left for decades. It doesn’t respond to arguments with arguments but with stigmatizing names designed to end debate. As the communications arm of the left, the media conforms perfectly to Lenin’s method. Instead of rebutting the arguments of conservatives, it has found it easier to brand them as “enemies” of science, women, minorities, the poor, and so on.
Whenever editors say that they refuse to acknowledge “two sides” on such matters as “marriage equality” or Darwinism or climate change, they are paying homage to Lenin’s devious politics by shorthand. They pay homage to it whenever they substitute their opinions of the news for actual reporting of the news. Even the squabbling among journalists recently over whether or not to suspend “conventional reporting” in Trump’s case, or whether front-page stories should declare his misstatements “lies,” is a tacit acknowledgment of that politics. With Lenin, the Christiane Amanpours have no use for the peskiness of precise responses. Just call Trump a “liar,” their attitude goes, and “everyone will understand everything.”
But that demagogic shorthand only works as long as Republican politicians defer to it. For years journalists opined self-servingly under the guise of objectivity and got away it because Republicans were too afraid to shatter that illusion of objectivity. They permitted the media to serve as the arbiter of what qualifies as “mainstream,” “extremist,” “racist,” and so forth, and made sure to stay within the media-determined parameters of any discussion.
Donald Trump has blown up that absurd arrangement and is beating the media at its own game. He labels reporters in the same way that they label him. He upends their dishonest framing of debates by treating them as what they are, liberal partisans. His exchange last week with April Ryan, a correspondent for the American Urban Radio Network, captured that perfectly. She asked him a loaded question not as a neutral reporter but as a water-carrier for the Congressional Black Caucus. So he treated her that way. “I’ll tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting?” the president said to her, after she asked if he would meet with the CBC. “Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?” Of course, they are friends of hers and she was trying to score a partisan point for them. Had Trump not deconstructed that for the audience, her question might have done him damage. Instead, it fell flat and looked unserious.
Reporters are thrown by a president who questions them as aggressively as they question him. And they resent that he refuses to accept as “facts” what is nothing more than their biased interpretation of the facts.
Everything they accuse Trump of is on display in their own coverage. One can only laugh at the eruptions of prissy sanctimony over Trump’s tweet calling reporters an “enemy of the people,” given the invective in which they have indulged over the last year. Having called him a despot and worse, who are they to scold anyone on intemperate language?
From ill-mannered reporters come lectures on manners. From partisans come demands for non-partisanship. Almost all of the complaints of the press can be boiled down to one demand: that its conservative targets unilaterally disarm. We fight, you surrender — that is the media’s idea of civility.
So expect the squeals of the media to grow in proportion to Trump’s exposure of its fraudulence. Bret Stephens and company can pompously say that Trump is an opponent of “objectivity itself.” But all that means is that he rejects their phony claims of objectivity and impedes their partisan wishes. In the end, it just means he is not a chump who is going to let them control politics by passing off liberal propaganda as “news” before which all must genuflect.
Contrary to the whining of Jake Tapper at CNN, last week’s press conference was not a distraction from his governance but an essential component of it. He recognizes that his agenda can only move forward if the people tune out the media’s distortions of it. Were Trump to take the media’s advice, he couldn’t govern. The more he neutralizes the media, the more successful he will be.
If he treats it as an opposition party, that’s because it is one. The fury of the media is the fury of exposed partisans, for whom ruling had once come so easy and now is too hard.