So, on Tuesday night in Phoenix, President Trump — falling in the polls and under severe fire from Right and Left over his handling of Charlottesville and Afghanistan — launched into the one target that unites his base: the media. Repeatedly, Trump ripped into their patriotism, their ability, and their honesty. He called “the failing New York Times … so bad.” He called The Washington Post a “lobbying tool for Amazon.” He said CNN was “so bad and so pathetic, and their ratings are going down.” He tore into “Little George Stephanopoulos.” He said that the media “don’t like our country. I really believe that,” and that they don’t “want to make our country great again.”
So, did the media calmly and rationally disabuse him of these notions? Did they shake their heads and say that none of this helps the country, and that this was dishonest rhetoric? Did they focus in on the real news of the speech — that Trump promoted an end to NAFTA and a government shutdown and a Joe Arpaio pardon? Or did they respond emotionally, in deeply offended fashion?
We report, you decide:
All this does is help Trump. That’s because while the media fulminate over Trump’s supposed insanity, the Right chortles at the media’s discomfort. Most of the Right agrees that the press has been dishonest about its own objectivity, and that the press routinely castigates Republicans. Furthermore, the Right generally agrees with Trump that the media’s response to him has been unhinged — that they react emotionally to his very presence, and that they aren’t offended by his penchant for untruth so much as his willingness to slap them in the face.
And herein lies the problem. If the media truly wanted to regain credibility, they could easily fact-check Trump’s speech last night — he overtly rewrote his Charlottesville response by failing to mention the controversial aspects of it. They could ignore his obvious attempts to tweak them. Instead, they jumped right into the catfight, and in doing so, lent credibility to Trump’s basic claim: that the media care more about their own egos than they do about the future of the country, that they respond emotionally rather than journalistically to events.
Trump and the Republicans haven’t gotten much done despite controlling both houses of Congress and the White House. But they’ll always have the media. And that may be enough.