Don’t shrug away Trump’s media attacks

After cozying up to a dictator who has terrorized his own people and threatened the United States with nuclear holocaust, Donald Trump had some thoughts about who he sees as America’s true enemies. “So funny to watch the Fake News, especially NBC and CNN,” the president tweeted, claiming that the networks were downplaying his meeting with Kim Jong Un. “Our Country’s biggest enemy is the Fake News so easily promulgated by fools!”

This line of attack isn’t new, and it’s easy to become desensitized to the slander after 17 months of Trump in office. But that doesn’t make the president’s rhetoric any less outrageous. Trump’s spurious claims cast the media as out to get him, an argument that provides an outlet for anger among his supporters and undermines real reporting that is critical of his actions. The specter of the Mueller investigation, and whatever conclusions it comes to concerning his circle’s misdeeds, is never far from the surface of these attacks.

Trump’s tweets about the press aren’t policy and they’re not directly tied to any particular action, but they do matter. When the leader of the most powerful country in the world—one that has long been a champion of the free press—describes the media as the “enemy,” it opens the door for autocrats and even democratically elected leaders in other countries to do the same. At home, these sort of tweets contribute to the erosion of trust in serious reporting and soften the ground for what is expected to be an all-out battle to rebut any damaging conclusions drawn by Mueller’s eventual report.

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When Trump called the media “the enemy of the American people” less than a month after taking office, it was treated as major news, with journalists and commentators expressing concern about the impact of his words and drawing comparisons to autocrats in other countries. More than a year later, Trump’s Wednesday morning tweet was met largely with a shrug: This is just what he does. That attitude is understandable, but when the president speaks it matters. His demonization of the press is dangerous, and it merits a continued, vigorous response.

Below, more on Trump’s media attacks.

  • Repetition shouldn’t mean resignation: Noting that Trump was roundly criticized for his February 2017 tweet labeling the media as “the enemy of the American people,” CNN’s Brian Stelter writes, “This time, there’s been a somewhat more muted reaction, perhaps because he is repeating himself. But it’s important to recognize just how extreme this rhetoric is. No modern American president has publicly spoken this way about the press.
  • No accountability: The AP’s Ken Thomas quotes NYU professor Jay Rosen on the impact of Trump’s media bashing. “It’s the erosion of the common world of fact,” Rosen says. “If we can’t agree on what the facts are, if there are no facts because they are in endless dispute, there is no accountability.
  • What they want: Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Pascale made it clear what he expects from the press: “The media should be cheering @realDonaldTrump’s progress with North Korea,” Pascale tweeted. As many journalists noted in response, cheerleading is not part of a journalist’s job description.
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Other notable stories

  • CJR’s Sam Thielman writes that Judge Richard Leon’s ruling to allow the AT&T-Time Warner deal to go forward makes the DC district court judge one of the most important figures in the history of American communications. Leon previously approved the acquisition of NBCUniversal by Comcast, and with his decision Tuesday, he has created another media giant. The reverberations from the recent ruling are already being felt, with Comcast offering $65 billion to buy 21st Century Fox, kicking off a bidding war with Disney.
  • Changes coming for the White House comms team? CBS News’s Jacqueline Alemany reports that press secretary Sarah Sanders has told friends she will be leaving the White House at the end of the year. Alemany also writes that principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah is considering a departure in the near future. After the story went live, Sanders issued a non-denial denial, saying, in part, “I love my job and am honored to work for @POTUS.”
  • Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo scoops that CNN boss Jeff Zucker signed an extension several months ago that will keep him at the network through the 2020 election. With the judicial approval of the AT&T-Time Warner deal, shake-ups are expected within the Time Warner executive ranks, but Zucker appears to be staying put.
  • Fox News anchor Bret Baier, who has been vocal about his frustrations with Donald Trump for declining interview requests from the network’s news division, finally got a sit-down with the president. Recorded aboard Air Force One before Trump left Singapore, the interview aired last night. In response to Baier’s questions about Kim Jong Un’s human rights abuses, Trump argued that other world leaders have “done some really bad things.”
  • For CJR, Anna Marum has a dispatch from Oregon, where “the Salem press corps has shrunk in recent years by nearly two-thirds, from 37 in 2005 to a total of 13 for this year’s session.” Marum notes that those still on the state capitol beat are also less experienced than in the past; seven of those 13 reporters have covered the statehouse for three years or fewer.
  • Scott Pruitt has lost the support of both Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham and National Review. As the EPA chief’s scandals mount, Ingraham tweeted that Pruitt has “gotta go,” while a NR editorial argues, “Pruitt is replaceable. And he should be replaced.

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