Media critic

Prior to President Trump’s inauguration, the question “is the press the enemy of the people?” wouldn’t even be asked in serious circles. Nor would the obvious response — no! — make news. But this is mid-2018, a year and a half into the Trump White House, and so Ivanka Trump’s response to a question about whether the media is the enemy of the people made big headlines across the land. “No, I do not,” said Ivanka Trump at an Axios event. With that answer, the president’s daughter showed more independence and free thinking than the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

At a Thursday briefing headlined by U.S. intelligence officials, Sanders fielded a question from NPR about whether the media is justifiably characterized as “enemy of the people.” Sanders blasted away:

The president is rightfully frustrated. Ninety percent of the coverage on him is negative, despite the fact that the economy is booming, ISIS is on the run and American leadership in being reasserted around the world. Just this week the media refused to cover his remarks in Florida highlighting efforts on workforce development. In fact, the pooler for the press said that there was no news made despite the fact that the governor of the state joined with dozens of businesses around the state of Florida to announce thousands of new jobs. That may not be news in Washington, D.C., but I can assure you that it’s news in the state of Florida…That was totally ignored. Not only that: Before, a journalist on CNN claimed that the president hadn’t taken questions in over a week, despite the fact that same journalist did a live shot from the two-and-two press conference that the president had with the prime minister of Italy just moments after making that accusation. With this sort of misinformation and lack of interest that’s so pervasive in the media, it’s completely understandable for the president to be frustrated.

Boiling all that down: Sanders refused to denounce the enemy-of-the-people rhetoric. Therefore, she embraced it.

And there her absurd response stood, until CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta circled back to the topic. He made it particularly easy for Sanders to say what had been clear to the country in less authoritarian times. “I think it would be a good thing if you were to say right here at this briefing that the press — the people who are gathered in this room right now, doing their jobs every day, asking questions of the officials you brought forward earlier — are not the enemy of the people. I think we deserve that,” requested Acosta.

It appeared, again, that Sanders was prepared for this inquiry. So she again lectured:

It’s ironic, Jim, that not only you and the media attack the president for his rhetoric, when they frequently lower the level of conversation in this country. Repeatedly, repeatedly, the media resorts to personal attacks without any other content other than to incite anger. The media has attacked me personally on a number of occasions, including your own network — said I should be harassed as a life sentence, that I should be choked. ICE officials are not welcomed in their place of worship and personal information is shared on the Internet. When I was hosted by the [White House] Correspondents’ Association, of which almost all of you are members of, you brought a comedian up to attack my appearance and called me a traitor to my own gender. In fact, as far as I know, I’m the first press secretary in the history of the United States that’s required Secret Service protection. The media continues to ratchet up the verbal assault against the president and everyone in this administration and certainly we have a role to play but the media has a role to play as well.

As they say, there’s a Trump tweet for everything. So: For Sanders’s contention that the media resorts to personal attacks for no good reason, there’s this, among so many others:

For Sanders’s complaint about appearance-based attacks, there’s this doozy regarding MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski, among so many others:

Leveling un-hypocritical criticism from the White House podium has become impossible.

In plowing through her feeble laundry list, Sanders exposed just how the president’s anti-media crusade echoes the principles underlying its other policy planks — stereotypes, slander and recklessness. After all: Media organizations and their various commentators, analysts and hangers-on have no doubt said unfortunate things about Trump, his followers, the White House and so on. News reporters have erred in reporting on Trump. In most cases, they have corrected the record. Such occasions arise in the news business, just as malpractice arises in medicine, bar violations occur in the law, and flattened autos arise in the tree-service industry.

What’s remarkable about the White House is its refusal to deal with each unsatisfactory situation discretely, the better to attack an entire profession already unpopular with the Trump base. And so, calling the media the enemy of the people is a lot like saying Mexico is sending rapists to the United States or declaring “I think Islam hates us.”

But that’s really a complicated way of breaking down this whole issue. More direct: Sanders was unhappy with the media pickup for a workforce development announcement. Therefore, in her mind, it’s okay to call the news industry the enemy of the people. Poor, frustrated White House.