Media: The Opposition Party

In this Feb. 27, 2017, photo, President Donald Trump speaks to a meeting of the National Governors Association at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

A daily blog is needed to report on President Trump’s constant barrage of statements and restatements on critical matters. His hyperbolic and garbled presentations often obscure his message of the moment. One constant, however, is the president’s hostility to mass media, which he castigates as an unelected opposition party. This half-truth intended to be a criticism is actually a compliment.

Despite bitter ideological differences, all of America’s “Founding Fathers” considered mass media (then newspapers and pamphlets) to be the principal watchdogs on governmental abuse of power. Thomas Jefferson felt so strongly about a free press that he wrote: “If I had to choose between government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter.”

Trump regularly confuses the purpose of presidential press conferences with the purpose of “feel-good” show business presentations. Entertainment rollouts feature selected attendees who limit themselves to friendly questions and produce uncritical coverage. Anyone who breaks that rule is placed on the do-not-invite list. That orientation is evident at some of Trump’s press conferences where only friendly reporters are invited or only friendly reporters are called on for questions.

The president’s misunderstanding of his relationship with reporters surfaced in his exchange with April Ryan, an American Urban Radio Network reporter. Ryan politely asked if the president planned to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus. Trump responded by pointing his finger at Ryan and sternly declaring if she thought such a meeting was positive she should set it up herself.

This response is disingenuous and evasive nonsense. If Trump wants a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, all that is required is a White House call to Representative Cedric Richardson (MD), chair of that caucus.

Trump repeatedly charges that mass media is an enemy of the people that regularly offers fake or false news. Given his history of being very litigious, the president knows full well that media is subjected to numerous libel and slander laws. In any case, Trump has forfeited whatever case he wants to make about fake news by his own actions. He is the proverbial resident of a glass house who can’t resist throwing bricks.

Fake news became an issue when Trump had his staff assert that “alternative facts” explained various presidential misstatements. Concerns about Trump’s personal credibility recently came to a head when he claimed during a televised press conference that his electoral college margin was the largest since the election of Ronald Reagan.

Peter Alexander of NBC instantly informed Trump on camera that his 304 electoral votes were less than those of George Bush (436 in 1988), Bill Clinton (370 in 1992 and 379 in 1996), or Barack Obama (332 in 2008 and 365 in 2012). Trump later explained he only meant to compare himself to other Republicans (still wrong), but he continued to repeat his false claim at subsequent public rallies.

The electoral vote numbers involved childish boasting. Far more troubling was Trump’s subsequent statement citing a terrorist attack in Sweden to justify his immigration policies. Whatever the merits of Trump’s proposals, the incident referred to never happened, leaving Sweden and the rest of the world questioning the validity of any Trump statement.

The president tried to save face by saying he’d misinterpreted a report on Sweden aired on Fox News. This excuse is even more damaging than his original statement. Donald Trump is the leader of world’s only superpower. He has a department of state, a personal press corps, and twenty security agencies to consult before making statements regarding international affairs.

Shooting from the verbal hip may please Trump groupies, but globally the effect is highly negative. Vice President Pence has been stuck with the task of visiting allies to rephrase and even totally reverse specific presidential pronouncements on foreign affairs. An example of the popular antipathy to Trump is that over two million Brits have signed a petition asking the British Parliament to deny him a state visit. Such hostility to a U.S. president by our most dependable European ally is unprecedented.

The Swedish fiasco is bewildering, given that it followed an earlier fake news statement by Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s official media consultant. Speaking on an MSNBC show hosted by Chris Matthews, Conway angrily berated mass media for not reporting on a terrorist massacre carried out by Muslim immigrants in Lexington, KE.

The reason the Kentucky story was not reported was that the massacre never happened. Conway was reprimanded, but she retains her title and White House access. Conservative Joe Scarborough was so disgusted by what he thought was the capstone of a series of erroneous stories generated by Conway that he has barred Conway from appearing on Morning Joe, his popular MSNBC show cohosted with Miki Brzezinski.

Trump’s tirades against mass media seem designed to intimidate critics. The exact opposite is occurring. Hundreds of reporters have been motivated to pour over the financial records of Trump and many of his appointees. His every statement is perused for errors and internal contradictions.

There is also considerable effort to determine if the Trump team has links with Russian intelligence. Many reporters are determined to expose any Watergate-style scandal that exists or may develop. Whenever Trump indulges alternative reality, the press is determined to inform the public, “not so.”