Fake Out

President Donald Trump's move on Wednesday (Aug. 15) to retaliate against his online and on-air critics by threatening to pull the security clearances of former national security officials, and pulling at least one already, is a fitting prelude to Thursday's protest by journalists against Trump's campaign to marginalize one of the primary checks on abuse of government power — a muscular and definitely non-fake news media.

By fitting, of course, I mean consistent with the president's pattern of disturbing, petty and vindictive reaction to criticism, followed by insults and charges of mainstream media conspiracies with his political opponents, conduct that soils the presidential seal and sullies, by association, the staffers who justify, and thus facilitate, his erratic and troubling behavior.

"One school of thought has held that replying to such charges is pointless because the president’s pronouncements are either hollow rhetoric or impulsive ramblings or political fodder for his base — or some combination of the three," wrote Rick Kaplar of The Media Institute in a blog on the pushback.

“Furthermore, since the First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press, and the courts are willing to uphold that freedom, the president’s words can have no real effect on the media. Thus, this line of thinking concludes, the act of replying to hollow assertions becomes a hollow act itself," he saays.

Kaplar concludes, as have the more than 100 print and online news outlets participating in this pushback day, backed by the Radio-Television Digital News Association, that there is a greater danger in allowing the attacks to go unchallenged. "The real danger of this continuous anti-media tirade is that it has the power to turn popular opinion against the press," he said.

I agree that there is power in collective action against an obvious wrong, but I urge news outlets to stake out the high ground and stay there, rather than be lowered to the President's level of personal attack. So, less of the "lying liar is lying again," with arched eyebrows and knowing winks, is called for, as difficult as that is.

Strong criticism of the president is fine in editorials (like this one). But when it comes to the day-to-day reporting on his actions, remaining even-keeled while the president tacks erratically all over the map is the best way to demonstrate how off-course his criticisms are.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.