President Donald Trump, angered by reactions to his Charlottesville remarks, unleashed a string of media attacks in his Phoenix speech on Tuesday.
Trump targeted others in his rant, including the two Arizona Senators. However, it was the media that came in for a sustained bashing.
Clearly, Trump was not happy about the substantially true coverage of his changing Charlottesville utterances. He seemed particularly incensed by CNN, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. Trump also took a few potshots at ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.
The media and Trump have long had a love-hate relationship. Trump craves attention. And the media, in turn, has always found him a colorful and quotable character. Even in his early incarnation as a real-estate businessman, the media was fascinated by him.
After Trump’s entry into politics, this mutually-beneficial relationship continued. He got tons of free media during the Presidential campaign. For the media, profits soared as audiences grew. Further, the drama of President Trump has also been healthy for media coffers.
However, profits cannot protect individual journalists or a free press. Candidate and President Trump’s attacks on the media are unfair and dangerous.
Media Attacks: Unfair
Trump did acknowledge that he has considerable support from right-wing media like Fox News. However, he ignored the vast blogosphere and conservative media that back him on a daily basis.
Also, Trump admitted to the power of social media –mainly Twitter – as a counter to the media. With millions of followers, Trump’s social media prowess creates a resounding echo chamber.
What Trump does not seem to be able to accept is that as President, he already has a powerful media voice. The media is unable to avoid pointing cameras and recording him. In those circumstances, Presidents need to prepare for what they say, unlike the often-rambling and dangerous remarks Trump makes.
Media Attacks: Dangerous
Presidents and media, especially in a democracy like the US, have always had a testy relationship. Combative media comes with the job of the President. As Harry Truman said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
Thin-skinned Trump is like one of those tin-pot despots who only want fawning media. His media attacks are dangerous in two ways.
First, the constant media attacks could embolden others to physically turn on the media. Indeed, in July Trump tweeted a doctored video of himself wrestling to the ground a person with a CNN logo for a head. Earlier, a Republican body-slammed a Guardian reporter.
Journalists in the US should not have to go around with bodyguards or guns. We are not in Iraq, Somalia, or Afghanistan.
Second, the media attacks are eroding the free press that Americans are rightly proud of. According to one report, the US is now ranked 43rd in the world for press freedom.
Trump needs to grow up and get on with governing, rather than blaming the media for his missteps.