John Dickerson provided this prescient comment early this morning to Hugh Hewitt, hardly knowing that national media outlets would only take a few hours to prove him right. The host of CBS’ Face the Nation discussed Donald Trump’s press conference yesterday, in which the president gave full vent to his frustration with the media — and the frustration of tens of millions of voters, too. Dickerson tells Hewitt that we can’t throw out our standards on how presidents handle the media, but that “the press did all that good work ruining its reputation on its own.”
Dickerson specifically pointed out the tendency of the media to provide “hysterical coverage to every little thing”:
HH: But my frustration, John, is that for eight years, I wanted the press to press President Obama on things like the jayvees, the red line, leading from behind, Aleppo, and they didn’t. And in the first month, they’re pressing Trump, and they’re upset that he’s not saying, you just said, I wish he would say this. He doesn’t say things that Manhattan-Beltway media elites want him to say. Instead, he says this. Let me play for you, I think, the key line in the 77 minute press conference yesterday, is this one, cut number four:
DT: Look, I want to see an honest press. When I started off today by saying that it’s so important to the public to get an honest press, the public doesn’t believe you people anymore.
HH: John Dickerson, that’s the key. The public doesn’t believe you people anymore.
JD: Well, here’s the thing. So I don’t, it’s not my wish. I don’t have any wishes. My point is if you’re going to make a case on honesty grounds and truthfulness grounds, if that’s the turf on which you’re going to hold your press conference and open your press conference, so we’re talking about veracity here, and the importance and necessity of that, then when it comes to veracity in your own backyard, to elide it completely seems inconsistent with the argument that you’re making in the 77 minute press conference.
HH: Well, he did. He made some incredible misstatements yesterday about, for example, the largest victory. And I just played Jake Tapper running through them, and it upsets people like you and me who are used to being held accountable for every word we say on the air, on this show, on your show. We’re always, you know, if we get something wrong, we have to correct it. He never corrects anything that he says, and he says lots of wrong things. But that one comment, they don’t trust you anymore, is a summation of where we are in America, because I really do think Manhattan-Beltway elites have lost the country. They’ve lost it. There’s just no confidence in, I’m not going to say us, because I am neither in nor of the Beltway-Manhattan media elite. I live in California still. But what do you think of that? Is it true?
JD: Well, yes. I mean, yes, it’s true, and it’s not because of anything obviously Donald Trump did. The press did all that good work ruining its reputation on its own, and we can have a long conversation about what created that. Part of it, though, is what you mentioned about the local weather report, which is to say a lot of hysterical coverage about every little last thing that doesn’t warrant it. Having said that, it doesn’t mean, and in fact, it most explicitly does not mean that the press just throws out the standards.
“Hysterical coverage” pretty well describes the Associated Press fiasco about a National Guard deportation force. I’ll bet Dickerson didn’t expect to be proven correct so soon.
Dickerson makes good points in both directions. It’s the job of the media to report on government and public policy, including when public officials offer incorrect or misleading information. (The 80% reversal rate on the Ninth Circuit is one example from yesterday.) Press conferences are opportunities to get officials to correct the record, or at least to challenge the official version of events. We need government to be responsible and operating on a truthful basis.
However, today’s media environment has gotten so poisonous that its customers no longer give their coverage much credibility. That poisonous atmosphere began long before Trump got elected president, but few can doubt that it’s reaching its nadir now — in large part because of that “hysterical coverage about every last little thing” Dickerson mentions. Trump may have demonstrated a historical level of antagonism for a president to the media in yesterday’s presser, but the media has provided a historical level of antagonistic coverage of this presidency, too. The masks have slipped over the last several weeks; Dickerson’s honest enough to point it out.
The solution, as Dickerson says at the end, is not to throw out the standards — but to have both sides get back to them. Soon, hopefully.
Update: This response from Dickerson is important, too. I trimmed down the transcript to keep from overloading people (and this part is in the full audio above, too), but he makes an excellent point here:
JD: I think that the problem is the Flynn matter, and you know, when you have a press conference like yesterday, you would have like to have heard somebody and somewhere in the Flynn saga say you know, he had to resign because we don’t lie to the American people, and just make it, and that’s never been said. It’s never been said in this whole thing about you know, this is about giving misinformation to the American people about a not unimportant thing. And the culture of truth telling that should be a part of a White House is not, you don’t get that. You know, the President was loose about the Electoral College thing. He said that for months. Nobody stepped in to say Mr. President, that’s not right. Or they did, and it’s just no big deal. So that’s, and why does that matter? You know why it matters, because little shadings end up to be a big shading at the end.
The unchallenged claims on both sides of the government/media divide have a nasty habit of sticking around, in other words. That’s a very good point.