When President Trump attacks the media, he is acting in self-defense.
Much of the media – particularly our friends at broadcast networks in New York and Washington – have been mocking, criticizing and dismissing Trump since his June 2015 announcement that he was seeking the presidency.
During the Republican primary, the media helped the real estate developer dispense with 16 opponents by giving him tons of free airtime and playing up his strength as an outsider. That changed when he became the GOP nominee and squared off against the media’s choice, Hillary Clinton. From that moment, it was war – mixed with collusion.
More than 60 reporters, anchors and media executives had no ethical qualms about attending off-the-record dinners at the homes of top Clinton campaign officials. They did so even as they often balked at the idea of letting Trump speak to the media off the record.
Trump overcame the media’s meddling to defeat Clinton anyway, and now people are somehow surprised that the president and the Fourth Estate are not on good terms? Clearly there is still anger and resentment – on both sides.
Honestly, I have much higher regard for my profession than for my president. If I can only save one of them, I choose the former.
Yet, as people who are supposed to dig for the truth, journalists have to be able to hear the hard truth about ourselves and our trade. If we’re doing something wrong, someone needs to point it out. And we need to listen.
Reporters and anchors – people who aren’t even supposed to express opinions, let alone lob insults – also need to show some self-control when Trump lures them into the mud pit.
For many in my business, this has turned out to be very hard to do. When Trump lays into us, we can’t decide whether we want to play the victim or fight back.
So after Trump fired off a tweet last Friday calling The New York Times and four television networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN) “the enemy of the American People,” media hype gave way to media hysteria.
▪ Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” New York Times reporter Nicholas Confessore called Trump’s comment “atrocious.”
▪ On the same show, Time magazine contributor Elise Jordan said the tweet “threatens the fibers of our democracy.”
▪ On CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” host Brian Stelter called Trump’s attack on the media a “verbal form of poison.”
▪ There was one cable network that wasn’t mentioned in Trump’s tweet tantrum. But that didn’t stop Chris Wallace – host of “Fox News Sunday” – from taking offense. According to him, the tweet crossed “an important line” and suggested Trump wanted a “state-run media” like they have in “dictatorships.”
Those were all strong performances. But the Academy Award for Best Actor in a newscast or drama goes to CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Claiming that Trump was “unhinged” in his “airing of grievances” and “complaints about the media,” Tapper castigated the president for focusing too much on himself and not enough on the American people. Accusing Trump of “not dealing with the world in which we live,” Tapper addressed the president directly – with a strong dose of condescension.
“Mr. President, you won,” he said. “You’re the president. Now get to work. And stop whining about it.”
After that screed, Tapper should never again be allowed to deliver straight news as a supposedly unbiased anchor. He’s not that.
You’ve probably heard the old saw about how journalists want to cover the story, not become the story. Recent events tell us that this is no longer the case. A new breed of professional storytellers seems to enjoy being the center of attention and the topic of conversation.
Those who used to be content to act as the fly on the wall now want to be the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Whereas they once could think of nothing more noble than comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, now they want to influence policy, engage in social engineering and change the world. Gee, in that case, they should have run for president.
These are challenging times for journalists, and Trump is only making it worse. Try as they might, they obviously can’t control him. But they can control how they react to him. He makes them crazy, because they let him.
Americans would be far better off if members of the media took their jobs more seriously – and themselves less so.
Ruben Navarrette can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.