In a dynamite discussion this afternoon on Fox News, host Shepard Smith engaged Chris Wallace on a variety of topics, including Donald Trump’s performance this week in a long-awaited press conference. As widely reported, Trump attempted to roll BuzzFeed and CNN into the same abhorrent bundle in their handling of a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer on alleged Trump activities in and around Russia. CNN had responsibly reported that those findings had bumped up to the presidential level; BuzzFeed dropped the entire dossier on the public.
BuzzFeed, said Trump, was a “failing pile of garbage” and CNN was “fake news.”
Those pronouncements set the stage for Smith’s question to Wallace: “What is your take on the Trump strategy to delegitimize the reporters and the news organizations whose goal for the American people is to hold truth to power?”
Well, look, there’s been plenty of biased reporting about Donald Trump. I think he’s legitimate in fighting back on that just as Barack Obama fought back on what he considered biased reporting. But there certainly have been cases where it seems like he’s just upset with the coverage, not with the bias — but the fact that it’s negative towards him and maybe rightly so. As long as it’s truthful, it’s legitimate. … I know one of the things that you have been concerned about, and I think legitimately so, is all of the stuff this week on the issue of what CNN did and what BuzzFeed did. I think almost everyone can agree that BuzzFeed printing this 35-page dossier, this file of what Donald Trump called “crap,” completely unverified. News organizations have been trying to find proof of it for months and have been unable to. To put that out there, you know, is just like printing hearsay or rumors, totally irresponsible and totally against what we do. On the other hand, what CNN did, where you’re simply reporting, “This is what happened. The intelligence community briefed the president-elect on this oppo research, which is reportedly tied to the Kremlin.” That’s a fact and to me it’s a news story I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reporting that.
Smith tried again: “Just wonder how dangerous you think it is if the commander in chief to be is making it part of his strategy to delegitimize those who are holding truth to power. It’s one of the cornerstones of our democracy.”
Wallace: “I don’t think that’s quite fair, I mean, I’ve interviewed him plenty of times. I’ve asked him plenty of tough questions.” Smith noted, “He doesn’t do it every time but he does it.”
Is this really a point of contention after a year and a half of Trumpism? The question is not whether Trump does or does not attempt to delegitimize the media. The question is whether he does much else.
A great journalist and hero of the debates of the 2016 campaign, Wallace is known for being fair and down the middle. In this case, he appears to be taking his moderation to extremes. Should he need any more evidence that Trump seeks to delegitimize the media, perhaps he should take a look at the New York Times’s inventory of his Twitter-launched insults. Or consider how many times Trump has paired the term “failing” with a news organization that has just broken an unimpeachable story about him.