Stop me if you’ve heard this one. President Donald Trump launches into a toddler-like tantrum about “fake news media” because they’re not giving him good enough coverage. His supporters suck it down like breast-feeding babies. The media, including yours truly, cries foul and, rightly, declare a free press “important to democracy.”
The predictable, tiresome cycle is happening again. From today’s interview on Fox and Friends.
A reminder to the president and his supporters: biased press is free press and not #fakenews. It’s something pretty much every president from George Washington to Barack Obama has dealt with – even though there are plenty of outlets who fawned over whoever lived in the White House like some sort of godking.
There are two ways presidents can respond to attacks in the press. The aforementioned Washington became quite agitaged regarding newspaper criticism which covered a wide gamut of topics, including military leadership and policy. Via MountVernon.org.
Washington’s fiercest critics were united by a strongly pro-French orientation with regard to foreign policy rather than domestic political views. The two most powerful opposition editors, Phillip Freneau at the National Gazette and Benjamin Franklin Bache at the Aurora, both viewed the French Revolution as a continuation of the ideals of the American Revolution.
The peak of press attacks against Washington came with the public announcement of the controversial Jay Treaty with Great Britain in 1794, which attempted to ward off an impending war with Britain at the expense of American-French relations. Even before the terms of the treaty were announced, Jay’s negotiations stirred up widespread opposition. The hostility was triggered not only by anti-British sentiment, but also by fears that the President was overstepping his authority in negotiating the treaty.
Washington’s apparent refusal to acknowledge public opposition to the treaty added to a general discomfort with the power he was wielding. “Belisarius” cast harsh aspersions upon Washington’s high-handed manner, which he saw as emblematic of the entire administration: “a brief but trite review of your six years administration, mark the progressive steps which have led the way to the present public evils that afflict your country. . .the unerring voice of posterity will not fail to render the just sentence of condemnation on the man who has entailed upon his country deep and incurable public evils.”
He kept his public cool – although it was probably much easier because there wasn’t exactly a 24/7 news cycle – and didn’t publcly lash out. There are theories the negative press affected Washington so much he decided to retire from public life following two terms as president.
Then there’s Obama’s response to negative press, which was the opposite to Washington.
People forget Obama avoided holding a news conference for months during his tenure in the White House causing consternation within White House press ranks. Former CBS White House correspondent Chip Reid aired his frustration in a series of 2010 blog posts noting Obama did his best to avoid tough questions. He also noted with irony how Obama didn’t speak with reporters after signing a bill on press freedom!
Politico called Obama a “puppet master” in 2013 for how he handled his media image.
Obama and his aides have raised it to an art form: The president has shut down interviews with many of the White House reporters who know the most and ask the toughest questions. Instead, he spends way more time talking directly to voters via friendly shows and media personalities. Why bother with The New York Times beat reporter when Obama can go on “The View”?
At the same time, this White House has greatly curtailed impromptu moments where reporters can ask tough questions after a staged event — or snap a picture of the president that was not shot by government-paid photographers.
The frustrated Obama press corps neared rebellion this past holiday weekend when reporters and photographers were not even allowed onto the Floridian National GolfClub, where Obama was golfing. That breached the tradition of the pool “holding” in the clubhouse and often covering — and even questioning — the president on the first and last holes.
Obama boasted Thursday during a Google+ Hangout from the White House: “This is the most transparent administration in history.” The people who cover him day to day see it very differently.
Then there’s the entire James Rosen affair and the monitoring of Associated Press journalists at the State Department. Most transparent administration ever (note sarcasm).
How should Trump handle a combative press? Not by calling 80% of them #fakenews or refusing to speak with certain journalists. It would be much better for him to accept the fact the media isn’t going to treat him like the godking or master negotiator he thinks he is and stop being a child. The press (fake news or not fake news) isn’t the enemy of the people and it comes off extremely authoritarian to suggest it. Trump is basically saying, “Trust me and my administration aka the government, not those who criticize me.”
Obama made a similar suggestion in 2013 at Ohio State University when he said, “you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.” It’s Obama’s statement which should have been rejected.
I don’t expect Trump to stop with the #fakenews comments because of his supporters. New York Post’s Salena Zito noted this week Trump voters are with the President until the end, no matter what bad news comes out.
In the aftermath of Tuesday’s news that both former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his lawyer Michael Cohen were found on the wrong side of the law in separate court cases, the question asked most frequently by the press, Democrats and “Never Trump” Republicans is, “Where do Trump voters go now?”
The answer is the same that it has always been since they first started asking it Nov. 9, 2016: With Trump.
This new conservative populist coalition is not the fluke the political class hoped it was. Donald Trump did not cause it, he is just the result of it, so no matter what he does, it continues. It is predicated on them, not him.
The coalition is a strike at not just tone deafness in both Congress and the White House but also high levels of incompetence, negligence and shoddy performance at agencies, as well as inept social services, a bloated and incompetent bureaucracy, endless wars and multinational agreements and treaties that don’t benefit average people.
Zito is correct in her assessment – even if I think Trump supporters are wrong in thinking treaties “don’t benefit average people,” (they just don’t see the results) and Trump’s reluctance to stop America’s involvement in Iraq and Syria.
It’s also why Trump won’t stop his complaining about #fakenews, even though it does nothing but foment anger and rage. Thus, the predictable game keeps going.