As is so often the case with Trump, he’s not entirely right, and he’s not entirely wrong. There’s rank media bias. There’s also legitimate media criticism of a public figure.
But as is also the case with Trump — and uniquely with him — the line has become impossible to distinguish because it has been absorbed into Trump’s personal pathologies. The “dishonest and corrupt” media are dishonest and corrupt not just because they engage in bias, but because they are not favorable to Donald Trump. That’s why Trump has banned, or threatened to ban, the Washington Post, Univision, Buzzfeed, Politico, the Des Moines Register, and the Times’s Maggie Haberman. It’s also why he’s threatened to “open up our libel laws” so that he can prosecute journalists who write “horrible” articles about him. The “disgusting” media apparently now include The Federalist’s Mary Katherine Ham, about whom Trump recently said: “I don’t know her, but she says only bad things.” That’s not a critique of genuine media bias. That’s thin-skinned Trump being upset that a reporter fails to prostrate herself before him.
Among the many toxins that the conservative movement and the Republican party will have to expel come November is the confusion of Trump’s world-consuming narcissism with legitimate criticisms of institutions that deserve to be held accountable. The media are obviously one such institution. A study published last year in the journal Big Data & Society examined more than 130,000 news articles about the 2012 presidential election produced by more than 700 American and international outlets, and found that “overall, media reporting contained more frequently positive statements about the Democrats than the Republicans. Overall, the Republicans were more frequently the object of negative statements.” That’s not surprising, and balancing that coverage is long overdue. But Trump’s attacks on media bias — which will continue to be diligently parroted by his supporters — have made that harder, by incorporating under the header of “media bias” everything that displeases Donald Trump. Disentangling real institutional problems from Trump’s self-obsession will be among the most difficult tasks facing post-Trump conservatives.
Republican voters thought they were nominating the one candidate who could face down the liberal media. It turns out that they picked the one candidate uniquely vulnerable to them.