Criticism of the media by a president is not necessarily a bad thing

This is not to say Wallace does not have sound reasons for eschewing Trump’s attempt to break “fake news” off from legitimate journalism. While he did not air them fully (it was, after all, an interview of the president), I imagine he worries that the “enemy of the people” formulation is a case of Trump wrongly conflating opposition to Trump with opposition to America. Perhaps the issue is not so much the drawing of distinctions between worthy and unworthy journalism, but rather that the president of the United States should not be doing the drawing. The president, clearly, is not just anyone. He is the highest official of a government that is constitutionally obligated to respect freedom of the press, to refrain from threatening it. If people hear an analyst decrying media bias, that is one thing; if they hear the president decrying “the media,” they may not grasp that he intends to rebuke only a subset of the media. They may not be so sure that the rebuke is good-faith criticism, as opposed to despotic intimidation. They may conclude that free-press principles are imperiled.

These certainly would be valid concerns. But their validity does not mean they necessarily outweigh Trump’s concerns that media partisanship and biased reporting distort the public’s understanding of important issues (and the validity of those concerns does not rise or fall on whether Trump’s is highly self-interested). If a large faction of the press is in the tank for Democrats, and is more effective than overt Democrats at driving a political agenda that portends great harm to the country, why shouldn’t the president say so? As long as he confines himself to expressing his views, neither taking nor threatening action under color of executive authority, the ability of journalists to say what they wish and cover him as they see fit is not hampered. All presidents, after all, inevitably grouse about press coverage. (That said, I’ve been critical of the president’s penchant to express his opinions about pending criminal cases. I do not believe presidential commentary about the media poses similarly vexing problems, but many journalists would surely disagree.)

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