For a washed out former journalist like me, it is utterly fascinating to watch the mortal combat between the mainstream news media and Pres. Donald Trump.
The latest skirmish occurred Thursday when some 350 newspapers engaged in a coordinated editorial attack against Trump. That, of course, gives Trump the opportunity to complain of news media “collusion” against him. There’s no question that collusion occurred.
We’ve never seen anything like this. The Boston Globe organized the attacks, encouraging newspapers across the country to blast Trump on the same day for calling the news media “the enemy of the people” and their reporting “fake news.”
I read a number of the editorials. For the most part, they were similar, talking about how the news media have a sacred role in democracy, serving as watchdogs to expose government corruption and are protected by the 1st Amendment. They decried Trump’s contempt for the media and said his comments are putting reporters at risk of violence.
One of the more interesting editorials was published by the Denver Post, which made a fascinating acknowledgment. The editorial said, “Trump is a difficult politician to cover. . . . In a vacuum void of his outlandish statements, some of Trump’s policies would earn more straightforward media coverage.”
So Trump’s aggressive comments result in less than “straightforward” coverage, the Denver Post admits. That’s human nature. If a reporter is continually attacked, he or she isn’t going to write much that’s positive even if the subject actually has some accomplishments. Anything Trump does is going to be portrayed in the worst possible light, and we see that every day.
Coverage of Trump, the Denver Post editorial said, “has become a destructive cycle where the media covers Trump’s words and instead of self-reflection following scathing media coverage, Trump cries fake news.”
So we have a standoff, and neither side is going to budge. Trump is totally convinced that he is treated unfairly by the media and he responds aggressively. The news media are horrified by Trump’s belligerence and contempt and react accordingly.
You can’t cover someone fairly if you detest him. It’s impossible. In my 20-year journalism career, there were a few times when a reporter was moved to another beat because the relationship between the reporter and the individual or agency he or she covered had become too toxic.
If the mainstream media moved every reporter who hates Trump to another beat, there would be no one left to cover him except Fox News reporters.
So the “destructive cycle” noted by the Denver Post continues. Trump does crazy stuff. He receives “scathing media coverage” and, unlike most politicians who don’t dare take on the media, Trump mocks and ridicules them. The news media react with more negative coverage and they also lose because half the country doesn’t trust them and thinks they are biased. News consumers don’t distinguish between opinion, which is 95 percent against Trump, and straight news coverage.
To be sure, Trump brings most of this on himself. He is a politician like no other. But the news media are complicit in coming across as totally anti-Trump. The editorial collusion didn’t help.
I wish a truce could be called, but it won’t happen. As I’ve written previously, this is a fight to the death.