The president’s Twitter account has trapped me in a never-ending cycle. When Trump tweets something disparaging about the media, I’m initially put off by the infantile language and debasement of the office from which it emerges. But then, the media reacts, blasting the pendulum back with the full force of a howitzer cannon.
The media’s overreaction demonstrates that, as Matthew Walther describes it, modern-day journalists treat “their jobs as some kind of creative priesthood.” And their sanctimonious replies almost always end up vindicating Trump’s denigrations.
Take the latest brouhaha. President Trump once again invoked the full wrath of the media with his recent comments about MSNBC anchors Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. Journalists the country over gawped at Trump’s tweets accusing Brzezinski of “bleeding from a face-lift” while she and “psycho Joe” begged to pal around with the president at his Mar-a-Lago estate. After the furor, Trump pushed further, tweeting, “Crazy Joe Scarborough and dumb as a rock Mika are not bad people, but their low rated show is dominated by their NBC bosses. Too bad!”
The phrasing, while apt for Twitter’s tight character limit, wasn’t exactly on the level of Benjamin Franklin’s biting aphorisms.
To escalate matters, Trump not only refused to admit his language was puerile, but he doubled down on damning the media. He followed up by tweeting a GIF of him pounding the snot out of WWE CEO Vince McMahon with a CNN logo superimposed over the wrestling mogul’s head.
Had an enterprising individual bottled up the press’s grief from the Twitter assault and sold it as a cure-all for dysthymia, he or she would be made rich overnight.
The hand-wringing and hair-tearing over the president’s comments was by far the media’s most extreme reaction to Trump’s jesting yet. The Washington Post ran an editorial by Scarborough and Brzezinski accusing the president of being mentally ill. New Yorker editor David Remnick wrote that every day “Trump wakes up and erodes the dignity of the Presidency a little more.” CNN’s Brian Stetler actually reported Trump’s tweets to Twitter, insisting they were a form of violence and should be removed per the company proscription on “hateful conduct.”
Then the unthinkable happened. CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski tracked down the creator of the GIF, threatening to out him (“dox” in internet slang) if he kept producing anti-media graphics. The identified offender was a 15-year-old teenager; in other words, the average online prankster. The subject’s age didn’t stop Kaczynski from issuing the ominous threat: “[H]e said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again….CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
Tough move, CNN, picking on a teenage cartoon creator. A journalist’s job used to be one of standing up for private citizens against power–not intimidating them because they support a sitting president. Oh, and Kaczynski likely got the wrong guy to boot, further fortifying his network’s reputation as “fake news.”
All this shows an obsessiveness, bordering on maniacal, on the part of the media to take down Trump. Every day, a new hit piece on the president dots the pages of one of the nation’s biggest papers. The inescapable conclusion is that the press won’t rest until Trump is unwillingly removed from office and frog marched back to Trump Tower. As Pat Buchanan wrote recently, “Trump is being hammered as no other president before him, except perhaps Nixon during Watergate.”
Before, the media happily promoted the narrative that the Donald is unfit to be the nation’s chief executive. Now, that marketing blitz is in full gear. Journalists have had it with the president’s personal attacks. For decades, the unspoken agreement between the White House was that members of the press could pillory the president with impunity, while the rarefied nature of the office prevented the president from responding in kind.
Those innocent days are done. Trump may come from a life of privilege, but he has the heart of a hardscrabble pugilist. When punched, he punches back with equal force. For a fourth estate too used to the idea of firing off volleys with no concomitant recourse, this is too much to stomach. No longer do news scribes have liberty to do as Mencken did, and lampoon presidents and would-be presidents as morons, boobs, ingrates, or a new species of invertebrate buffoons. Trump is all too eager to deploy his own arsenal of counter-insults, none of which have much forethought put into them.
The president’s war with the press may have reached a new extreme, but it’s by no means new. Barack Obama not only called Fox News an “opponent” and questioned its legitimacy as a journalist outfit, his Justice Department spied on Fox reporter James Rosen. Richard Nixon’s vice-president Spiro Agnew accused the D.C.-New York media industrial complex of basking “in their own provincialism, their own parochialism.” George Washington disparaged the press as “infamous scribblers.”
Trump has taken his media defamation to another level, focusing on and individualizing certain outlets and particular persons. The press has ceased to be an abstract collective of snooty publications. It is composed of actual people trying depose an entire administration.
As an outsized personality and frequent target of tabloid gossip, Trump understands how media framers can quickly turn personal success to public scorn. So he’s adopted the leftist approach of personalizing his punches, naming names, and relentlessly barraging his detractors with streams of insults.
Trump’s providing a blueprint for how kowtowed Republicans can, at last, deflect the non-stop caviling by reporters. As president, he’s leading a new kind of revolution, not against foreign invaders, but invaders of common thought. The media can’t get its fill of biting Trump’s hammy haunches over every slight misstep. The disproportionately negative coverage major networks give the White House distorts the public’s understanding of their elected government. It is knowingly subversive, and a danger to an informed democracy.
Trump, in his own unorthodox way, has forever unmasked the thin-skinned, highly vindictive nature of the nation’s media.
It isn’t pretty. But revolutions rarely are.