Jim Acosta to Sarah Sanders: Specify which media outlets are "enemies of the people"

A clever challenge by the standards of a guy best known for yelling questions at Trump as he leaves a room and then congratulating himself afterward on-air for his bravery in doing so.

If she refuses to specify, she and Trump look gutless, unwilling to stand behind his most incendiary accusations in their concrete application. If she does specify, she runs the risk of having some nutbag like the guy in Florida take it as a cue to target that outlet with bullet or bombs. And if he does, that will be laid squarely in Trump’s and her laps, with the clip of Sanders identifying the “enemy” running perpetually on cable news for days afterward.

She chose the less dangerous option of the two, being weaselly and ducking Acosta’s question. If she were being honest, she would have cited Ed’s definition of “fake news media,” which is the correct one. To Trump, all outlets that aren’t biased in his favor are enemies of the people and “fake.”

When I and others objected to the continuing nonsensical demagoguery on Twitter, the objections to it fell into two broad categories. The first was a risible attempt to say that Trump was only objecting to “fake news,” not the media as a whole. Other than Fox News, though, can anyone come up with a prominent outlet that Trump hasn’t accused of being “fake news”? That’s an entirely disingenuous distinction without a difference at all.

Trump’s idea of “fake news” is just “news you shouldn’t pay attention to or else you’re helping the libs.” The NYT report a few days ago about foreign spies listening in on his cell phone is an example. There’s every reason to believe that story is true: Reports about opsec pros wringing their hands over his iPhone have been floating around for a solid year, all because they were worried about exactly this scenario. But since there’s no way to prove that it’s happening, he can shrug and say “fake news” and expect that righties, at least, will ignore it. (And they do. Have you seen a single Republican congressman demand answers about whether his conversations are protected from spies?) Whether he calls an unflattering report “fake news” is mostly a matter of whether it can be semi-plausibly denied or not. If it can, fake news!

Remember this tweet from two weeks into his presidency?


Again: “News you shouldn’t pay attention to or else you’re helping the libs.” Polls are especially easy to present as “fake news” since their methodology is inscrutable to most people and the actual responses to the survey are known only to the pollster himself — that is, they can always be semi-plausibly denied. Nothing is easier than claiming that a pollster with bad numbers for you simply made ’em up to serve a certain agenda. (Provided you ignore the reality that a pollster who consistently missed the actual outcome of elections by a wide margin would see his professional reputation destroyed.) So that’s what Trump does.

Still, although all bad news is potentially fake news unless it’s reported by Fox, Trump probably does have particular outlets in mind when he describes the “fake news media.” The two that seem ever-present in his mind are the New York Times and CNN. His problem with the Times is straightforward: They ding him with exposes more than any other paper so naturally he’d want to target their credibility. His problem with CNN is less clear; it may be a matter of a grudge he harbors against Jeff Zucker, of CNN’s unusually high quotient of irritating, sermonizing personalities (starting with Acosta), or just the fact that he doesn’t pay attention to reliably left-wing MSNBC and gets most of his TV exposure to anti-Trump bias from Zucker’s outfit. Whatever the reason, they’re likely “enemy of the people number one” in his mind. Sanders does throw a little blame at them in her response to Acosta.

CNN HQ fired back afterward, by the way. Exit question: Has there been a single segment on CNN over the past week about the mail bombs or the synagogue shooting that didn’t lay indirect culpability on Trump? Noting that you didn’t directly blame him is nice but sort of, well, fake-news-y when the takeaway from all of the coverage is “This is on the president.”