Trump at CPAC: Yes, the "fake news" media is the enemy of the American people

Via RCP, some reporters on Twitter seemed surprised that he’d spend so much of his speech attacking them at CPAC, which is supposed to be a platform to talk conservative policy. Makes sense to me, though. At a moment when there’s no consensus definition of “conservatism,” when people don’t agree what the right should stand for, it’s smart politics to unite the base by highlighting what they stand against. Ross Douthat sees something similar at work in the popularity of Milo Yiannopoulos, who represents different things to different right-wing constituencies but whose “outsider” appeal is the common thread running through each. Righties can’t agree on what they want (with a few exceptions) but they know who they don’t like and don’t trust, and they’re drawn to the most effective antagonists of those disliked, distrusted constituencies. And for decades, no group has been more disliked or distrusted on the right than the media. Trumpers, anti-anti-Trumpers, conservatives, alt-righters — we can argue over the size of government but there’s no arguing that our media is, in many ways, terrible. Go figure that Trump would try to channel that unity at an event devoted to unity.

He tries here to distinguish the “fake news media,” whom he calls enemies of the people, from the media writ large. The media is fine, he says; the fake news media are villains. Okay, but he’s tried at other times to erase the distinction between those two groups, like when he declared a few weeks ago that “any negative polls are fake news.” A poll that’s been manipulated to produce a bad result is fake news; a poll with a bad result that’s been conducted properly is just … a poll with a bad result. Trump confuses the two because he wants supporters to dismiss negative feedback about him as necessarily bogus, which is consistent with his approach during the campaign of complaining regularly about how “unfairly” various critics were treating him (the RNC, the media that couldn’t stop covering him, etc). There’s always been a vibe from him that criticism, except in extreme cases like the “Access Hollywood” tape, is necessarily illegitimate.

I wonder if he can name a single example offhand of a story which he thought was fair even though it was critical of him. Case in point: He mentions dismissively here that a certain unnamed news story recently claimed nine sources for a damaging report about the White House, a claim at which Trump scoffs. But that’s a bad example. The story with nine sources that made a splash was the WaPo report on … Mike Flynn’s phone call with the Russian ambassador, which claimed that Flynn had misled Mike Pence about his conversation regarding sanctions. A few days later, Trump accepted Flynn’s resignation for having misled Pence. There’s no clearer instance this month of a story that wasn’t fake than the one that ended with his national security advisor getting the boot, yet here he is citing it as an example of a dubious report. He also goes on to mention how the LA Times poll got the election right while others, like the “Clinton News Network” and ABC, got it wrong. But the LA Times didn’t really get it right: They had Trump winning the election, true, but that’s because they expected him to win the popular vote by three points when in reality he lost it by two. They were off by five points. ABC’s poll, meanwhile, nearly nailed the result, predicting a 49/46 split for Clinton compared to an election-night result of 48/46. Trump sees that poll as fake news, though, simply because it was bad news. Which means it’s really the whole media, not just the “fake news” media, that are allegedly enemies of the people.

One other interesting note near the end here. He speculates that the polls that showed him losing to Clinton might have depressed turnout on election day by convincing some of his supporters that he had no chance and they needn’t bother voting. That’s possible, although of course those polls might also have convinced some Clinton supporters that they weren’t needed for victory and could afford to stay home. It could be, though, that as the White House quietly lets allegations of massive voter fraud drop (remember the kerfuffle over that in the first few weeks of Trump’s administration?), they’ll turn to this theory instead to explain why Trump lost the popular vote. It wasn’t so much voter fraud as it was the “fake news media” insisting that Trump had no chance to win, which led to millions of Trumpers staying home when they were otherwise ready to vote. We’ll see if that theory pops up again in the months ahead.