Trump tweets: The "fake news media" is the enemy of the American people

Even Steve Bannon, online heir to one of the right’s most ferocious media critics in Andrew Breitbart, would only go so far as to call the media “the opposition party.”

We all understand that our shoot-from-the-hip strongman president is going to have moments when he sounds a little Chavez-y, but this is too on the nose.

His first iteration of that tweet disappeared five minutes after he posted it this afternoon, leading Twitter users to wonder if maybe Priebus or Kellyanne Conway had lunged for his phone and deleted it upon spotting the sinister “enemies of the people” language. Nope. Here’s the original. The new version appeared 15 minutes or so later. Turns out Trump simply wanted to add a few more news organizations to his enemies list. Weirdly, he omitted the Washington Post, which broke the story that led to Mike Flynn resigning and which has been all over him lately. He probably doesn’t know that the paper is frequently abbreviated “WaPo” and didn’t want to waste too many of his 140 characters on typing out the full name.

The dark brilliance of a rhetorical grenade like this is the left/right squabble it’s destined to instigate. The media, which has rarely been as impressed with its own supposed heroism as it’s been lately, will shift to Category Five sanctimony along with the left. And the right, allergic to that sanctimony, will punch back even though that’ll have the effect of aligning them with Trump in defense of this sentiment, whether or not they personally have misgivings about it. And many probably don’t. “The media is the enemy of the American people” is a creepy thing for a politician to say, particularly if he wields executive power, but if you had to summarize the core belief of right-wing activism over the past 25 years in one sentence, you could do worse than that. The left will scream that this tweet is the beginning of the end of democracy and both the pro-Trump and anti-anti-Trump right will shout back that, however inartfully and hyperbolically stated, the man has a point. And off we go with Team Blue versus Team Red on whether criticizing the president, which the right spent the last eight years doing, makes you an enemy of “the people.”

I know, I know: “He only said the fake news media were enemies.” Eh, not really. Not when you remember that this is the same guy who recently declared that any poll that looks bad for him is, by definition, “fake news.” “Fake news” in Trump-speak runs the gamut from truly dubious reporting, like this morning’s AP story about immigration and the National Guard, to anything that embarrasses the administration, like today’s new Gallup poll. The entire point of Trump’s media strategy is to get supporters to equate accurate but damaging news for the White House with “fake news” and to ignore it accordingly. If he had had unlimited characters for his tweet, he probably would have mentioned every major news organization in America except Fox.

Rather than insisting that “enemy of the American people” is a proper description for the president to use about anyone outside of, say, ISIS and Al Qaeda, right-wingers should follow Katie Pavlich’s lead here. Trump’s rhetoric is irresponsible and shouldn’t be repeated, but — at least so far — he’s a blowhard about the media, nothing more. His predecessor wasn’t always so mild-mannered:

The point of that isn’t to excuse Trump, merely to point out that today’s tweet is hardly the first sinister anti-media precedent to have been set in recent memory. The left, at least, will only be terribly exercised about one of those precedents.

One note in closing: If you thought left-wing demagoguery of the right was bad when Democrats tried to blame Republicans en masse for the Gabby Giffords shooting, wait and see what happens if, God forbid, some nut attacks a reporter at some point down the road. If he can be placed on the right ideologically through even the barest, vaguest evidence, they’ll lay that attack right in Trump’s lap because of this tweet. And given that Trump already has reason to know that his criticism of reporters can inspire serious threats, that criticism won’t be as palpably nutty as it was after the Giffords incident. As an exit question, here’s a freebie for any White House correspondent looking to have some fun with Spicer at the next next briefing: “Is Vladimir Putin an ‘enemy of the American people’?” Let’s see where the Kremlin ranks in Trump’s hierarchy of villains vis-a-vis CNN.

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David Strom 12:31 PM on December 07, 2022