American presidents have often clashed with the press. But for a long time, the chief executive had little choice but to interact with journalists anyway.
This was as much a logistical matter as it was a begrudging commitment to the underpinnings of Democracy: News organizations were the nation’s watchdogs, yes, but also stewards of the complex editorial and technological infrastructure necessary to reach the rest of the people. They had the printing presses, then the steel-latticed radio towers, and, eventually, the satellite TV trucks. The internet changed everything. Now, when Donald Trump wants to say something to the masses, he types a few lines onto his pocket-sized computer-phone and broadcasts it to an audience of 26 million people (and bots) with the tap of a button.
It may be banal to point out how dramatically the world wide web democratized publishing. But to understand Donald Trump’s war on the press, you have to consider what has happened to American journalism since August 6, 1991, the day the first website launched. With that first website, the thick layer of mediation that once existed between the president and the masses began to evaporate. The influence of all those former intermediaries would undergo a profound cultural shift as a result.