President Trump routinely attempts to convince his followers that the media is out to get him; that it doesn’t actually have any sources for all those White House scoops; that it lies; that it’s the enemy of the people; that it traffics in “fake news” — among other offenses carefully outlined in tweet after tweet. Sometimes the fake-news smear is conveyed in all-caps, connoting seriousness.
Ah, but it’s all a show. That’s what the president reportedly told Lesley Stahl of CBS News before her interview with the president-elect shortly after his victory in November 2016. In a conversation with Judy Woodruff for the Deadline Club Awards 2018, Stahl mentioned her conversation at Trump Tower with the politician prior to the interview:
At one point he started to attack the press. And it’s just me and my boss and him, and he has a huge office. And he’s attacking the press, and there were no cameras, there was nothing going on. And I said, “You know, that is getting tired. Why are you doing this? You’re doing it over and over, and it’s boring, and it’s time to end that, and you’ve won the nomination. And why do you keep hammering at this?” And he said, “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe it.”
We knew that, all of it.
Yet there’s an extra chill that comes from learning that the president himself
acknowledged boasted about a strategy aimed at the degradation of the Fourth Estate. Remember: In September 2016, Trump reacted to news that public confidence in the media had reached a new low. “I think I had a lot to do with that poll … because I’ve exposed the media,” said Trump at the time. “I am very proud to say that I think I had a lot to do with that poll number.” Maybe this is one issue on which we can take the president at his word.