Many politicians dislike the press – at least sometimes.
The difference with the president is that he takes “dislike” to a much higher level.
The Jim Acosta episode got even a bit wilder Thursday when the White House released what appears to be a doctored video showing Acosta putting his hand on the woman who attempted to grab the microphone he was holding. This is crazy, if not scary, stuff. Everyone who saw Wednesday’s press conference live or recordings of it later that day could clearly see the newsman never touched the woman.
But to grasp how troubling the White House response is, one needs to examine what drives Donald Trump’s view of the media.
In watching him as president and mindful of his business activities in New York City and New Jersey, it’s obvious that he either disagrees, or is hostile, to the notion of a free press in the first place. That is, he does not accept the idea reporters are supposed to ask questions and point out obvious, or not so obvious, inconsistencies.
Every reporter encounters such people. The world of politics includes a lot of people far too impressed with the power they think they have.
But these individuals are not presidents of the United States.
There is a pretty simple reason why our current president feels the way he does. So much of what he says is not true and some of it is foolishly untrue – like when he suggested (with a straight face) that Ted Cruz’s father may have been involved in the JFK assassination.
Let’s go back to his first full day as president. Recall that we now know that he instructed his-then press secretary to proclaim that his inaugural crowd was the largest in history, a fact many photos easily disproved.
That pattern has continued for almost two years now. The president often says outrageous things and responds angrily – often on Twitter –when his falsehoods are pointed out. Most recently, he claimed there were no protesters when he visited Pittsburgh after the synagogue shooting when they obviously were.
Some may laugh off such episodes as Trump being Trump, but there is a serious side here.
An outright hostility to the press that includes doctored videos, cries of “fake news” and “enemy of the people” are hallmarks of authoritarian regimes.
That is no accident. It is very clear to all those who watch the president closely that he seems to prefer the order and stability of dictatorships more than chaotic western democracies. Note his fondness for dictators – Putin is the best example – as opposed to the leaders of democratic countries, our traditional allies.
This may be understandable in that Trump, who never was a politician, lived in the world of development and business where deals were made privately, things happened relatively quickly and meetings were not subject to the Sunshine Law. Of course, these practices fly in the face of transparency, open government and democracy, but you don’t get the feeling these are the president’s chief concerns.
What is his concern is politics. And blasting the press – even lying – is very popular with his base.
The visceral appeal of Donald Trump to his supporters seems to be that he opposes so much of what they dislike – the political establishment, the so-called elites and the mainstream media. They see Trump as one of them. It makes no difference if things Trump says he wants never happen. There is no wall and Obamacare has not been replaced by “something terrific,” which Trump actually said was going to happen in one day. His supporters still believe Trump is on their side – no matter what.
So when the president condemns the media, his base loves it. And when the media squawks in righteous indignation, his base loves it even more.
Don’t take my word for. Believe “the Mooch,” or rather Anthony Scaramucci. He made that precise point in a recent appearance on the Bill Maher show. Granted, Scaramucci’s tenure in the White House was infamously short, but he did work there.
Whether this is a coordinated strategy or just one that neatly coincides with the president’s instincts is immaterial. Demonizing the media is going to continue.
And whatever the short-term political benefit for Trump, it’s not good long-term for American democracy.