Trump Versus the Media

Trump seems to be trying to intimidate the press. While this New York Post story appears mostly to have been generated by Matt Drudge’s fantasies, the Politico version of what happened when Trump met with 25 media executives yesterday — to discuss a “media reset” — was weird enough.

Trump turned to NBC News President Deborah Turness at one point, the source said, and told her the network won’t run a nice picture of him, instead choosing “this picture of me,” as he made a face with a double chin. Turness replied that they had a “very nice” picture of him on their website at the moment. …

… Trump also singled out CNN, the source said, without elaborating on what the president-elect said about the network. A CNN spokeswoman wrote in an email that the network would not comment on an off-the-record meeting.

The Washington Post, which I understand was not represented at the meeting, was less kind.

But if the media elite attended in hopes of improving relations with the forthcoming Trump administration, that wasn’t quite in the cards. The president-elect specifically called out reporting by CNN and NBC that he deemed unfair, according to four people who attended the meeting, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was off the record.

Instead of striking a harmonious tone to build rapport following the election, Trump was combative, participants said. In a calm and deliberate voice, he told the group sitting around a conference table that they had failed to provide their viewers with fair and accurate coverage, and told them they failed to understand him or his appeal to millions of Americans.

But he made no mention of the enormous amount of airtime that the networks, especially on cable, devoted to his campaign. A number of analyses have noted that Trump’s presidential effort was boosted by the news media’s fascination with him.

In a sign of another battle with the media to come, Trump also shrugged off the need for a constant press pool covering him, the people said, though he did not delve into specifics. Trump has repeatedly shirked his pool, upending a long-standing tradition of the president and president-elect.

WaPo currently is featuring an article saying that the Trump Foundation confessed to the IRS it had violated rules on “self dealing.”

Trump had a meeting scheduled with the New York Times, then cancelled it in a series of whiny tweets, but apparently kept the appointment.

But the New York Times had already published a story about how Trump and other billionaires are laying the groundwork for “an unprecedented legal assault on the media.”


Whatever Trump’s feelings about the media, New York Times v. Sullivan will surely survive his presidency. The case is revered, and in the last several years, the Supreme Court has moved to expand, not contract, the reach of the First Amendment. And states have taken steps, too: To prevent people from using the courts, and the discovery process, to silence or retaliate against their critics, 28 states and the District of Columbia have enacted anti-Slapp laws — the acronym stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” It’s possible, however, that Trump could appoint judges who would find a way around the usual press protections. More immediately, he could ask his Justice Department to prosecute journalists who report leaks from his administration. (President Obama’s Justice Department investigated reporters, but didn’t charge them.) It’s also possible that the press will be a meeker watchdog because of subtler changes that are harder to track. As the head of the executive branch, the president exerts a great deal of control over access to information. Federal agencies have power to shape the state of the union; they also describe it for us by producing reams of facts and statistics, which in turn shape our assessment of our elected leaders. Trump could hire people who cancel funding for government reports or research that doesn’t serve his interests, or who suppress findings the administration doesn’t like.

The new president will be a man who constantly accuses the media of getting things wrong but routinely misrepresents and twists facts himself. “Their single goal will be to burnish their reputation,” Tim O’Brien predicts of the Trump administration. There are signs, too, of new efforts to harness the law to the cause of cowing the press. Trump’s choice for chief adviser, Stephen Bannon, ran the alt-right Breitbart News Network before joining Trump’s campaign last summer. Breitbart announced last week that it was “preparing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against a major media company” for calling Breitbart a “ ‘white nationalist’ website.” Even if Breitbart is bluffing, the threat will discourage other news outlets from using that term to describe it, and that will in turn help Breitbart and Bannon seem more acceptable to the mainstream. Trump was right about one thing: You don’t have to win every case to advance in the larger legal war.

Because of the proliferation of alternative news sources, the mainstream press doesn’t have the power to make or break a president as in the old days (think Lyndon Johnson, if you’re old enough to remember the news coverage he got). But they could surely pile a world of hurt on an administration if they were pissed off enough, and not cowed into compliance. We’ll see what happens.

24 thoughts on “Trump Versus the Media

  1. Freedom of speech/the press, is so… So 18th Century.
    It’s so 19th Century.
    It’s so 20th Century.
    It’s the 21st Century, and by now, shouldn’t we all have learned that it’s better to listen to our Authoritarian Daddy? That his word is gospel, no matter how it differs from the day(s) before?

    Will this latest t-RUMP rant stiffen the spines of our MSM?
    I doubt it.
    They’ve long forgotten how to walk upright. That happens after a couple of decades of groveling. *

    * Actually, they don’t grovel with Democrats — they’ve been trained by conservatives to spit in the eyes of liberals.
    It’s when dealing with conservatives, that they behave like long beaten and abused red-headed stepchildren.

  2. I am old enough to remember that today is the 53rd anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. If Trump wants a good picture of himself, he needs to lose about 70 pounds. I think this administration is going to be a black hole for Truth.

  3. While some individual reporters may be pissed off, corporate ownership will, almost certainly, ensure they are cowed into compliance.

    Time Warner, for example, owns CNN. Similarly, MSNBC is now owned by Comcast. Trump has already threatened Justice Department action against both Time Warner and Comcast. See:

    Once sworn in to office, all Trump has to do is call the CEOs of Time Warner and Comcast and say, “You know, I think your coverage of me has been unfair and dishonest. Isn’t there something you can do about this? Oh, and by the way, I hear the Justice Department is looking into antitrust matters relating to your company. I don’t have anything to do with it, but it is something I’ve heard.”

    Do you doubt for even one second that Trump would do this? And, this is only one of thousands of under-the-radar actions Trump could, and no doubt will, take against those who dare to criticize him.

  4. After the dressing-down hd gave the medai, and with the coming holiday weekend, I suspect t-RUMP will unveil his most horrendous picks for cabinet posts tomorrow.

  5. If the press would realise that they’re dealing with a full blown and battle hardened sociopath and that no amount of reason is going to have an effect on Trump’s behaviour they’d fare a lot better. You’ll notice the word “fair” and “shame” popping up quite often in Trump’s accusations. Two qualities that don’t abide in Trumps being. They only have power over a person with a conscience. Trump is impervious to the truth.. Know thy enemy!

  6. The alternative press lessens the mainstream press’s power, but increases their liberty. Not all news comes through them, so they can tell Trump “we didn’t originate this story”.

  7. I’m going to present a crude metaphor. There are a lot of prostitutes in America (estimated 1 million) – I’m talking about the sex trade, not politicians. Exactly what they are willing to trade varies – probably very few will knowingly let themselves be beaten bloody by a John, regardless of the fee. SO looking at the media, with a history of being willing conduits of DC propaganda to maintain relationships with sources, how far down this road will they go?

    If Trump demands that only flattering pictures of him be published, and only flattering and non-critical articles be published, there will be no facade of integrity, of bending the rules for the greater good. Operating in the previous category of ‘friends with benefits’ reporting, the media was satisfied that whoring was still journalism. When the chains of editorial restrictions are applied across the board, and a ball gag is in every reporter’s mouth, the media will have embraced the ugliest kind of journalistic prostitution. And everyone will know it, because Facebook and Twitter and the Internet are out there for millions. The truth will still come out. (Think Nixon’s second term.)

    I have little faith in the integrity of the press – but I wonder if they will let themselves be bound, knowing what this John may do to them.

  8. “seems to be trying to intimidate humiliate” really?
    This male primate dominance behavior is called bullying and of course sucking up all the air, the media should have figured this out long ago, but played along like venal fools for ratings. A lot of courage will have to be employed in the years to come.

  9. I have little faith in the integrity of the press – but I wonder if they will let themselves be bound, knowing what this John may do to them.

    They’re damned if they do and they’re damned if they don’t..What Trump has already done is set up and reinforce the true believer syndrome. The Christian complex where any criticism is perceived as persecution, and it strengthens the resolve to support Trump regardless of how outlandish his behaviour becomes.
    Or they can just shut up and allow Trump to run roughshod right over them. If they decide to come at Trump with full fury… he won’t be the one who suffers the damage, it will be our democracy.
    When dealing with sociopaths know that they instinctively position themselves to let others suffer as shields for attacks against them. Cowardice is the essence of their nature.
    It makes sense to me now..when Trump said that he had the best words he wasn’t talking about his vocabulary..He was alluding to his awareness of his sociopathic nature. Sociopaths pride themselves in their ability in getting over… That’s where Trump finds his glee.

  10. This serial abuser behavior. Trump’s MO. In private threaten bully berate where they cannot report his behavior. Next day in public quotable meeting act nice talk policy, disavow altreich. like the coward who goes to the bar, yells screams impresses friends with his bluster, goes home beats up wife and next day talks sweet to her . and on and on ad nauseum. He delights in the game and getting away with it. Get a damn clue.

  11. Doug,
    Over the last 4+ decades, our various news mediums have been fairly willing participants in a slowly evolving snuff-film – in some respects, it’s been a self snuffing film.

    Maybe t-RUMP’s little harangue will wake our various news mediums up, and put some steel in their less firm than Jello-like spines.
    But I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

  12. The downside of Bonnie’s link is in the comments.

    In my current state of mind, I have trouble avoiding self-diagnostics, and the results aren’t good. So, you may have to cut me some slack, more so than usual.

    At this point, I have no idea how to go on from here. But, I am certain that we will go on. I am thinking of Doug’s comment bringing chaos theory into the mix, “sensitivity to original conditions” and such. Chaos generates a broad range of possibilities, that is its strength and its contribution. We stare into chaos like a skrying bowl and what we see says as much or more about us, than it says about the world we try to view. Somehow we have to sift out the bits of truth from our own reflection. We are not particularly good at it. Self reflection and self criticism are difficult but necessary, even if they drift into self flagellation from time to time.

    Mankind is capable of reason, but it is not the natural inclination of our minds. We live in an environment where “truth” is a ruined word. It has become a packaging label for misinformation and disinformation, just talk to someone from the world of alt-right websites. Breaking through to some sort of functional discussion is presently impossible. I am evidently, a snooty, condescending, smug elitist, despite the fact that I drive a twenty year old truck an spend most of my time wearing work clothes. I can live with that. But, in my defense, I have to maintain that what people hear can be very different from what is said. Some of my hippie era radical friends are talking about our failure to promote progressive ideas, our smug assurance that we “know what is right for others,” our cultural elitism and our condescending attitudes. All of these observations have some truth to them. But, how can you promote an idea without believing it is right? How do you provide evidence without engaging in logic or analysis? Either of these will get you branded and dismissed as an elitist. You want to recount the reasons why you hold your opinion? That will be perceived as condescension.

    As T. E. Lawrence wrote, “some of the bitterness of my tale was inherent in our circumstances.” (I know that was elitist of me; only elitists read books.) But, much of the bitterness is inherent in our nature, that is, the nature of our minds. I’ve been reading some essays on the work of Spinoza, and it is definitely a bittersweet experience. It has become abundantly clear why people like Michele Bachmann rail against “Enlightenment values.” They have the fervent desire to live in a pre-Enlightenment world with God at the head and his ordained hierarchy in place on earth. They want the kind of Christianity that kept the social order of the old South, that gave them dominion over others and validated their prejudices. Authority is comforting to them.

    Another commenter from NC wrote that he had experienced a fear for his life. I can foresee the possibility that I will feel the same way. There are a lot of guns around and blood in the water. Some houses are flying confederate battle flags and dominionist flags. We have to stay for four more years before we can bug out, if we can bug out.

    The only ray of hope is the foreign press. It may still be possible to find some semblance of truth.

    Well, I find myself poorly disposed to think my way out of a wet paper bag. But, in time, I will think my way to freedom. As always, thanks for you patience.

  13. Nikki Haley for UN Ambassador.

    Hey, not a horrible pick!
    Sure, she’s a conservative, and a woman, but she’s not the typical Phyllis Schlafly stale white bread version.

    I can live with this one. She’s far from ideal, but, what can we expect from the Orange KKKaligula?

    But the there’s still a horrible shitty-cane of cabinet picks on the horizon – probably later today, to sneak them in on a 4-day weekend (for many folks).

  14. “I believe in being truthful, not neutral. And I believe we must stop banalizing the truth.

    And we have to be prepared to fight especially hard for the truth in a world where the Oxford English Dictionary just announced its word of 2016: “post-truth.”

    We have to accept that we’ve had our lunch handed to us by the very same social media that we’ve so slavishly been devoted to.

    The winning candidate did a savvy end run around us and used it to go straight to the people. Combined with the most incredible development ever — the tsunami of fake news sites — aka lies — that somehow people could not, would not, recognize, fact check, or disregard.”

    By Christiane Amanpour, Chief International Correspondent, CNN

  15. Good point about Johnson. When LBJ was president, there were three TV networks and Walter Cronkite was everyone’s wise uncle. Part of the post-truth era is characterized by the lack of a national consensus on what makes a fact a fact. Voters can choose their own sources of news and can attend only to those voices they wish to hear. No establishment news organizations can inflict a world of hurt on this guy the way they could on Johnson. There is no avuncular figure out there who is trusted by enough people to cause a serious shift in a president’s image. Donald Trump will never have to say, “If I’ve lost Scott Pelley, I’ve lost the country.”

    As long as he doesn’t piss off Fox News, he has nothing to fear from NBC, CBS, and ABC combined.

  16. He seems nice
    Yeah, most psychopaths do.. It’s part of their predatory camouflage. Ted Bundy seemed like a nice guy also until you got to know who the real Ted Bundy was. Joel Steinberg? Could be…all the same elements with different manifestations.
    What you saw is what we’re gonna get.. After 70 years of Trump cultivating his sociopathic qualities I’d abandon all hope of expecting a modified behaviour coming from him.

  17. Monty …That rant wasn’t directed at you, per se. I’m just so wound up with an accurate picture who Trump really is that I have to look for any opportunity to unwind. My therapist says venting is good. It keeps my wheels on.

  18. Doug said, “The winning candidate did a savvy end run around us and used it to go straight to the people.”

    The people voted for Hillary Clinton by over 1.5 million votes. Donald Trump is a loathsome creature and proves that nice people don’t count.

  19. It is often said of John Singer Sargent that he was “the best of the worst, or the worst of the best.” I often think of Tennyson in the same vein. As the days grow darker, we turn to “The Lady of Shalott” as sung by Loreena McKennitt. I could say it’s one of my “guilty pleasures,” but, I don’t think you can match the physical beauty of the verse. If you’ve read some medieval literature, you’ll see that by some unseen device, Tennyson has latched on to the essence of the medieval mind.

    But, we need to gather our strengths now. My dear wife tells me of a lot of evenings in her grandparents home, when poems were read by firelight, instead of sitting in front of the TV. This was one of the standards.

  20. Next year, when it’s turkey-pardoning time for t-RUMP, the turkey he designates to pardon will instead stick its neck straight out, and gobble. “NO! KILL ME NOW!!! I DON’T WANT TO LIVE WITH YOU AS POTUS!!!”

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