Battle Royale: Trump vs. the News Media

LaVarr WebbThere’s an old rule in politics that you never go up against the people who buy ink by the barrel and paper by the roll. In other words, you don’t pick fights with the news media.

That rule has been followed fairly consistently for many decades by politicians at all levels of government. Sure, fights break out periodically between politicians and reporters, but they are isolated and fairly infrequent. The thinking is that fighting the news media may feel good, but reporters and editors always get the last word. Politicians mostly stew and complain to their staffs, but seldom confront reporters and editors.

Until now. The Trump campaign and administration have ignored every custom and practice in campaigning, and now the administration is blowing up old expectations between politicians and the news media.

Reporters and news outlets have never been under such sustained fire, and they are outraged and confused. 

The Trump attitude toward the news media is especially galling for reporters because they view their jobs as a higher calling, almost a sacred responsibility to speak truth to power and hold powerful people accountable.

To be called common liars and purveys of fake news by some vulgar billionaire that they view as a barbarian is tough to take. They don’t quite get that they are part of the establishment that Trump has vowed to disrupt.

Trump is enabled in his media attacks by two things: First, the news media are held in low esteem by most citizens, even lower than most politicians. So many average citizens not only don’t care that Trump is taking on the news media, they’re cheering him on.

Second, those ink barrels and paper rolls are not nearly as powerful as they once were. Traditional news media no longer control the agenda, because the Internet and social media has disrupted and democratized communications and information sharing. Media gatekeepers no longer exist. No longer does everything flow through a few national newspapers and three TV networks.

No one is better at using social media than Trump. His administration is going to exploit, accelerate and illustrate the decline of traditional media.

We could see open warfare between the New York Times/Washington Post wing of the mainstream news media and the Trump administration.

The fight might actually be good for the bottom line of media organizations as more people watch the fun. Fox News may especially benefit as the loyal opposition to traditional media.

Trump continues to break molds, blow up the rules, and rampage through the political world.