Trump picks sides in media battles

With a handful of tweets, President Trump injected his views into the media sphere, bolstering one much-criticized broadcaster and nudging down the stock price of one of the country’s biggest businesses.

Sinclair Broadcasting Group, under fire for a promotional campaign that read like propaganda, got a boost from the commander in chief yesterday. “So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased,” Trump tweeted. “Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.” The president hasn’t mentioned Sinclair much, if at all, in previous missives, but he was back on the topic again this morning, praising “the competition and quality of Sinclair Broadcast.” There may be more than simple opportunism at play here: Politico’s Margaret Harding McGill and John Hendel report that his words signal support for the conservative broadcaster’s pending purchase of Tribune Media’s stations.

ICYMI: CNN frustrates viewers with gun comment controversy

While boosting Sinclair, Trump turned his ire on Amazon, whose owner Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post. Axios reported last week that Trump was “obsessed” with Amazon, and a series of tweets over the weekend and into Monday have sent the company’s stock plunging. According to several reports, including the Post’s own analysis, Trump sees attacks on Amazon as retribution for critical coverage in the Post, though Amazon, of course, does not own the Post. “Trump is typically motivated to lash out at Amazon because of the Post’s coverage of him,” The New York Times’s Sydney Ember reports, highlighting a deeply reported story on Trump’s business interests as one cause for the president’s recent outburst.

In the past, Trump’s attacks on outlets like the “failing” New York Times and “Amazon Washington Post” have helped contribute to a surge in support for those outlets. With Amazon, however, things may be different. Several analysts tied the five percent drop in the company’s stock price yesterday to Trump’s tweets. “If President Trump wants to punish Amazon for lousy Washington Post coverage, it’s working,” CNN’s Nathaniel Meyersohn observed.

Every president has favored outlets and coverage they find too harsh, but Trump takes presidential media criticism to a whole different level. His support of Sinclair and conflation of Amazon and the Post are just the latest in series of outbursts, but the impact of those tweets is having an immediate impact in a way that other musings haven’t.

Sign up for CJR's daily email

ICYMI: Revolution at The Washington Post

Below, more on the president and the media.

  • Damage control at Sinclair: CNN’s Brian Stelter has the latest from inside Sinclair, where executives are defending the segments that drew backlash. Staffers, however, voiced concerns that the promos damage their journalistic credibility.
  • Baron responds: Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron reiterated to the Times’s Ember, “There isn’t anybody here who is paid by Amazon. Not one penny.” He added, “We cover [Trump] the way that we feel any president should be covered.”
  • It’s personal: Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reports that “Trump is discussing ways to escalate his Twitter attacks on Amazon to further damage the company.” Sherman quotes one source who says, “He gets obsessed with something, and now he’s obsessed with Bezos. Trump is like, how can I fuck with him?”
  • Trump’s TV advisor: Though Sinclair has been the focus of Trump’s recent support, he hasn’t forgotten his first love. The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani and Asawin Suebsaeng report that Trump regularly turns to Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs for advice on economic issues, and even puts Dobbs on the speakerphone to participate in Oval Office meetings.

 

Other notable stories

  • If you haven’t read or listened to the conversation between Vox’s Ezra Klein and Mark Zuckerberg, it’s worth your time. CJR’s Mathew Ingram parsed Zuckerberg’s responses, highlighting the moment when Zuckerberg got “genuinely peeved” by Klein’s reference to criticisms of Facebook’s advertising-based model from Apple CEO Tim Cook.
  • Maggie Haberman, Josh Dawsey, and a team of CNN reporters were honored by the White House Correspondents’ Association for their coverage of the administration’s first year. Politico’s Michael Calderone notes that the choices complicate Trump’s possible attendance at the annual WHCA Dinner.
  • This new poll on media trust from Monmouth University is…not good. One topline takeaway: “More than 3-in-4 Americans believe that traditional major TV and newspaper media outlets report ‘fake news,’ including 31% who believe this happens regularly and 46% who say it happens occasionally.”
  • For CJR, Elon Green talks with Melissa Gira Grant, who has covered criminal justice and sex workers’ rights for more than a decade, about Stormy Daniels coverage, the prospect of covering sex work as a beat, and whether visible sex worker representation in media would be helpful
  • It’s a big month for ESPN, with the debut of morning show Get Up! and the launch of its new standalone subscription streaming service, ESPN+. The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis has some snap observations on Get Up!’s first broadcast, while The Verge’s Chris Welch explains why ESPN+ is so important to Disney’s streaming future.

Correction: An earlier version of this newsletter referred to Lou Dobbs of Fox Business Channel. His show airs on Fox Business Network.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.