President Trump’s latest salvo in his anti-media campaign is a doctored video clip posted to his personal Twitter account showing him beating up a man with a CNN logo on his face. The tweet has drawn predictable outcries: “It’s not just anti-CNN. It’s anti-freedom of the press,” said CNN political analyst and Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Bernstein on Sunday. Ana Navarro, an ABC and CNN commentator, also criticized Trump’s tweet as “an incitement to violence. He is going to get someone killed in the media.”
What do we have on our hands? A budding authoritarian who is resorting to demagogic assaults to manipulate news coverage of his administration? Or are we talking about a 71-year-old president who, in terms of emotional growth process, is stuck in his adolescent years — hence his juvenile Twitter behavior.
It’s none of that.
There is a strategic calculation to Trump’s war on the press. I covered this ground in a post blog nearly six months ago [“Trump’s war on the press is a strategic calculation,” Feb 21]. It’s territory worth trodding again in light of his relentless attacks.
Trump regards the mainstream media as rivals — dangerous adversaries that stand between him and what he wants to achieve.
In the world of Trump, only his version ought to be told. White House stand-ins, such as Kellyanne Conway, believe administration-spun stories and press releases should be treated as gospel. Hence the media earns their wrath because, except for one cable network, the Fourth Estate doesn’t do Trump’s bidding.
We are, after all watchdogs, not lap dogs.
But, to Trump, we are the enemy. It follows, therefore, that we must be brought down, especially in the public’s eye.
That means denigrating and defaming the media so that, regardless of the evidence, the public summarily dismisses our reporting and analyses.
These are essential weapons in his war arsenal. It’s called branding. And it worked like a charm for Trump during the election cycle.
A New York Times riveting account of Trump’s lesson on branding is worth repeating.
“You know, you have to brand people a certain way when they’re your opponents,” Trump told an outdoor rally in Boca Raton, Fla., in March 2016.
“Lyin’ Ted,” Trump said to the audience about Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), spelling it out letter by letter: “L-Y-I-N-apostrophe.” “We can’t say it the right way,” he explained. “We’ve got to go — Lyin’! Lyin’ Ted.”
He held up Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as another example. “Little Marco,” he called him. Then Trump spelled out his preferred nickname for his opponent: “L-I-D-D-L-E. Liddle, Liddle, Liddle Marco.”
He branded Jeb Bush as “low energy.”
“We started off with 17 people who were up on this stage,” Trump reminded the crowd. They were all favored, he said. “’Now,’ he finished with a flourish, as the crowd roared, ‘Trump is favored.'”
“But you’ve got to brand people,” he told the crowd.
Remember the “crooked Hillary” branding iron that Trump kept applying to Hillary Clinton? It stuck.
Think about Trump’s belittling of the intelligence community’s work, and his questioning of their motives? Notice how it coincided with intelligence community reports concerning Russian interference and influence in our presidential election. That was Trump at work, branding and degrading.
That is what Trump’s disparagement of the media is all about — to take us out before the in-depth reporting on him and his administration really sinks in. Make no mistake: Whether launched by tweet or in rallies or on talk shows, Trump’s media assaults, personal attacks and harassment aren’t unplanned.
Our response should be no less deliberate.
Just do our jobs. That means providing nothing less than blanket coverage of Donald Trump. Count on the public to ferret out the facts about what is positive and responsible, and what is reckless, foul and untrustworthy, about the current White House.
Persistent, nonstop reporting may drive Trump out of his mind, but, tweets be damned: The public trust deserves no less.