Trump’s Relationship With the Press

Trump’s Relationship With the Press


Trump’s Relationship With the Press

During his Wednesday press conference, Donald Trump displayed what is likely to be a pattern in his relationship with the press: he shut down CNN reporter Jim Acosta, refusing to take his question and calling CNN “fake news.”

The move was an obvious retaliation for CNN’s breaking the story about a former British intelligence officer’s report about compromising material that Russia may possess and wish to use to blackmail our soon-to-be President. Trump’s treatment of Acosta was also a clear message to other Washington reporters: no matter how big your news organization, if you report something that displeases the President, you will lose access to him. The exchange prompted this Facebook post from former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather:


Here is the article from Columbia Journalism Review to which Dan Rather is referring.

In order to fully understand the implications of Presidential exchanges like what took place in that press conference, one needs to look at today’s media landscape and Trump’s history of interacting with it.

Many news outlets today face high levels of public distrust – some rightfully earned, some not. Trump was brilliant throughout his campaign at playing that to his advantage, painting the media with a broad brush as dishonest, and having that message resonate with his supporters. The obvious implication of his repeated slams is that if the journalists’ version of events is a lie, his version must be true.

Donald Trump is also notoriously litigious, having been involved in thousands of lawsuits over his lifetime. On the campaign trail, he suggested rewriting the law to make it easier for a President to sue journalists.

Lastly, many of our more reputable news outlets are struggling today. The major newspapers and the three major broadcast TV networks of 40 years ago are now competing with 24-hour cable news, which is in turn competing with thousands of bloggers, tweeters and YouTubers: everyone is trying to have the edge, to be the first to break a story, to get the biggest share of an increasingly fractured audience. At the same time, in their struggle to remain financially solvent, many major news outlets have cut journalistic staff to a minimum, and the concern of further layoffs is always looming.

Enter Donald Trump: a fresh-from-the-tabloids-and reality-TV figure who was a household name before his Presidential run, who says and does entertaining and controversial (and therefore “newsworthy”) things every day. During his campaign, he proved to be a guaranteed ratings grabber, and news outlets consequently provided him hours of free coverage that none of his competition enjoyed (it might be argued that this excessive free coverage from day one of his campaign contributed to his electoral victory). The lucrative nature of covering Trump was best summarized in February, 2016 by CBS Chairman Les Monves when he said “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS” (Full Article – Politico).

Now imagine that you are a reporter assigned to cover the White House. Your job requires that you have access to the President and his Administration, and your journalistic responsibility to the public requires that you ask challenging questions to get at important truths that the President may wish to conceal.

Mr. Trump is forcing a powerful and disturbing dynamic into this equation which has a high potential of distorting both of the afore-mentioned responsibilities: you now feel an unspoken pressure from your boss not to report in a way that might alienate your news organization from the President or that could risk bringing on a time-and-resource-draining lawsuit from him.

For those reporters willing to set aside their integrity, there are likely to be ample rewards from the Trump Administration: key interviews with high-ranking figures, the opportunity to be the first to get a “scoop” spoon-fed to them by Trump. For reporters wanting to operate in the long-standing journalistic tradition of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable,” there may be significant repercussions from this Administration.

That is a prospect that should concern every American, because complete and accurate information is essential to hold those in power accountable. What you can do is to support quality journalism financially when you see it, so that news outlets see some reward for holding to their ethics.

– rob rünt

Fake News

Fake News

Fake News

On December 4, 2016, 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch drove a couple hundred miles to a Washington DC pizza restaurant with an assault rifle and demanded to see the hidden underground tunnels where the children were being kept for a child sex ring with ties to Hillary Clinton and ritual Satanism. He fired three shots during the course of his attempt to “self-investigate,” but thankfully nobody was injured. The well-intentioned man had become enraged after familiarizing himself with a conspiracy theory perpetuated in numerous YouTube videos which all seemed to tell a similar story about the pizza restaurant, Comet Ping Pong.

The videos claimed that words like “pizza” and “cheese” were undeniable code words for a pedophile’s preferred kind of child. When the owners of the pizza joint wanted to hold a Clinton Campaign fundraiser, and asked Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta to prepare some of the food as a special feature for the event, Podesta’s response – revealed in leaked e-mails – was irrefutably incriminating evidence that he liked young boys: “I’ll do a pasta.”

Pizzagate was an example of “fake news” having unintended consequences. Fake news was a relatively new phenomenon that increasingly emerged during the 2016 Presidential Campaign. After the incident at Comet Ping Pong, Michael Flynn Jr., son of Trump’s disgraced National Security Advisor, tweeted his continued belief in the legitimacy of the conspiracy theory:


Fake news originated from numerous sources during the 2016 Campaign. Some, like the “pizzagate” story, began on alt-right chat rooms and took on a life of their own as different people added to them with YouTube videos laying out their own theories or new clear connections that they were finding to unrelated facts and information. Some fake news stories came from sketchy entrepreneurs in America and abroad who saw that outrageous news about Hillary and Trump was an easy guarantee of web clicks that they could use to sell advertising and make a buck. Some fake news was created and distributed for partisan purposes. And some appears to have been generated and spread with the blessing of the Kremlin in hopes of keeping Hillary Clinton from gaining the Presidency. Many of these stories got traction through social media – particularly Facebook and Twitter, as the incendiary but false headlines generated titillation and outrage and were shared widely.

For whatever one may think of Donald Trump, he is an absolute master at powerful branding – at bluntly redefining things and making those definitions stick through constant repetition. And he has now done that by redefining the term “fake news” and co-opting it for his own use.

Many have long since forgotten what “fake news” meant a whopping four months ago. Now the term is used to constantly call into question the legitimacy of any news story – from reputable journalists – in which undesirable information about the President is brought to the surface. The new definition successfully shifts attention away from blatant fabrications that had successfully helped Trump win the election, and redirects attention to cultivate an overblown degree of skepticism toward the mainstream news media.

Questioning the information we are getting right now is legitimate. The mainstream press see the wellbeing of the nation in general and the sanctity of the First Amendment in particular – their bread and butter – to be under threat, and many are accordingly a bit concerned. They are operating in a crazy-making new landscape in which different supposedly credible representatives of the Trump Administration give them conflicting information, the President is openly hostile toward the press and changes his firmly stated positions on issues sometimes in the course of a week, and rumors and hysteria are flying throughout the government and the nation in general. In such an atmosphere – combined with the already existing 24-hour news cycle where it is important to be first with a story – getting the story right is not always easy, but I believe that journalists are generally doing their best, and are not intentionally trying to present anything “fake.”

What is dangerous about the term “fake news” is the inherent subtext that comes with it: do not trust facts, do not trust your own eyes and ears, do not trust traditional news sources. The only source of information upon whom you can confidently and consistently rely is the President himself.

Demonization of the news media has been used successfully in the past by other authoritarian leaders to help achieve their ends: Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, Vladimir Putin, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler. The latter branded the media the “lügenpresse,” or “lying press.”

“We must challenge this statement and this sentiment that the news media is the enemy of the American people. This sentiment may be the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.”

William H. McRaven
Retired Four-Star Admiral/former Navy SEAL who organized and oversaw the operation that killed Osama bin Laden
Washington Post – 2/24/17

Is the press “the enemy of the American people,” as President Trump asserted last week? Absolutely not. At a time like this, it is essential that we support the news outlets that we consider the most credible and accurate, so that they can continue steadfastly doing their work that is so vital to our democracy, without the threat of being hamstrung or worse by a President who does not always like what the facts reveal about him.

– rob rünt