The continuous campaign by the president of the United States to discredit and delegitimize the media has no precedent in recent, or distant, memory.
Even Richard Nixon got surrogates, such as Vice President Spiro Agnew, to do most of his dirty work. This president seems to relish personally insulting and belittling his opponents.
In a fundraising email over his signature, President Donald Trump said two weeks ago: “Look, Hollywood and the media are going to hate us no matter what we say or do. Their goal is to take us down.”
We will admit the media have been prompted to look with suspicious minds at every move the president makes, but he has brought that on himself with his conduct in office.
Between speeches calling for unity and an end to divisiveness, the president has doubled down on his “us vs. them” attacks, prompting the principal broadcast and cable journalism association to warn its members about protecting their safety.
At a campaign rally in Phoenix, Trump claimed his post-Charlottesville comments, widely criticized for drawing a false equivalency between racists and those who opposed them, were “perfect,” and had been misreported by media outlets he peppered with invectives, from the familiar “fake” and “dishonest” to “sick people” who were unpatriotic and turned a blind eye to violence.
But the media were quick to point out that it was Trump misreporting his own statements, leaving out the “many sides” comments and “very fine people” characterization of some of those protesting with the neo-Nazis and racists, which were the parts of his statements that generated the criticism.
The president mocked the stature of ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, calling him “Little George,” and slammed the “failing” New York Times — using his favorite adjective for the iconic news outlet — and claimed The Washington Post was the lobbying arm of Amazon. He mocked CNN and then admired his handiwork as the crowd booed the news outlets.
Cable talking heads spoke openly about a president unhinged and even delusional. Former Republican Sen. Gordon Humphrey questioned Trump’s mental fitness, suggesting that Congress and his cabinet should seriously consider whether the president was fit to serve. “He is not a well man,” Humphrey told CNN.
The Radio-Television Digital News Association called it his “most vicious attacks to date,” but RTDNA was doing more than that.
“As long as the person with the most powerful bully pulpit in the world continues to attack verbally the news media,” journalists are at risk, RTDNA incoming executive director Dan Shelley said. “We urge reporters and photojournalists to be vigilant, and to take whatever steps they feel necessary to protect their personal safety while fulfilling their constitutionally guaranteed duty to seek and report the truth.”
A week after the president talked about bringing the country together in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Va., he signaled who might be excluded from that inclusiveness: “They say I’m isolated by lobbyists, corporations, grandstanding politicians, and Hollywood. GOOD! I don’t want them,” he wrote.
That feeling, to the detriment of the healing this country so desperately needs, is increasingly mutual.
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