Trump Brands Media 'Enemy of the American People'

President Donald Trump raised the level of his attacks on the media yet again Friday, tweeting the following Friday (Feb. 17):

"The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!"

The President omitted Fox News, which he has been stroking with one hand--"The fake news media is going crazy with their conspiracy theories and blind hatred. @MSNBC & @CNN are unwatchable. @foxandfriends is great!--he Tweeted Feb. 15, while bashing most other outlets with the other.

That "enemy of the people" broadside followed the President's press conference Feb. 16, when he said the press was dishonest and out of control and called some of those outlets disgraceful. It also came the same day the Trump team and the Republican National Committee circulated a "mainstream media accountability" survey to supporters asking them, among other things, whether the Republicans should put more resources into combating what they argue is a concerted mainstream media attack on them.

The BBC, whose reporter Trump snarkily mocked during the press conference, said the President's "enemies of the people" line echoed "history's worst tyrants," like Stalin and Mao--an observation echoed by Slate magazine--while former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame tweeted: "The most dangerous 'enemy of the people' is presidential lying--always. Attacks on press by @realDonaldTrump more treacherous than Nixon's."

Nixon, whose distrust of the media was also palpable, and mostly returned in kind, famously threatened to put a body part of Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham through a ringer, and his vice president, Spiro Agnew, called the media "nattering nabobs of negativism."

Meanwhile, over in Germany, GOP party stalwart Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) began distancing the rest of the party from the President, saying in a speech: "I know there is profound concern across Europe and the world that America is laying down the mantle of global leadership. I can only speak for myself, but I do not believe that that is the message you will hear from all of the American leaders who cared enough to travel here to Munich this weekend. That's not the message you heard today from Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. That is not the message you will hear from Vice President Mike Pence. That's not the message you will hear from Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. And that is certainly not the message you will hear tomorrow from our bipartisan congressional delegation.

McCain also weighed in on the President's attack on the media, suggesting he was using the tactics of authoritarian regimes, if not trying to become such a ruler. In an interiew on NBC's Meet the Press, McCain said: "“If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and, many times, adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That's how dictators get started.”

"[W]hen you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press,” he said. “And I'm not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I'm just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.”

John Eggerton

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.