President Trump requires no translation or interpretation when it comes to his plan for going after national news outlets as Campaign 2020 kicks into high gear.

On Monday, he made his intentions clear in a couple of rambling, overcapitalized tweets: “Our real opponent is not the Democrats, or the dwindling number of Republicans that lost their way and got left behind.”

No, he wrote, “our primary opponent is the Fake News Media.” This was attached to a rant about what he calls the “LameStream Media” and its supposed lack of sources and fact-checking: “They are now beyond Fake, they are Corrupt.”

Attacking the reality-based media is nothing new for Trump. That strategy was a mainstay of his 2016 campaign and has endured, like a chronic disease, throughout his presidency.

AD

But now that his 2020 reelection bid is, arguably, in trouble, he plans to ramp it up.

AD

In recent weeks, he has called the media “crazed,” charged that it is in a “sick partnership” with the radical left and said journalists are trying to create an economic recession. And a group of conservative operatives tied to the White House is digging up dirt about journalists to discredit news organizations.

As New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman noted in response to the Labor Day tweets: “A Trump adviser . . . said weeks ago that the president, whose own approval ratings have stayed upside down, needs voters to feel negatively not just about his opponents but about longstanding institutions.”

AD

Should journalists quake? Should truth-minded citizens cower?

With a little help from some recent Gallup poll numbers on trust in the media, I’ll make a few predictions:

First, Trump’s tactic will work — but almost exclusively with the people who are already convinced that the national news media shouldn’t be trusted, namely Republicans.

AD

Here are the five news sources that Republicans trust most: local TV news, discussions with family and friends, Fox News Channel, local radio news and local newspapers.

By contrast, these Republicans deeply distrusted national newspapers, CNN and the nightly broadcast news — Trump’s major targets.

So, in general, Republicans already have crossed over to the no-trust zone — with one predictable exception.

AD

Nearly 7 in 10 of them trust Fox News — whose opinion and talk shows, at least, often amount to state TV for the Trump administration.

For Democrats and independent respondents, those low-ranked news sources soar much higher.

Independents favor public television news, and show far more trust than Republicans in other national news sources. Democrats generally show trust in national newspapers and the nightly news on ABC, CBS and NBC.

AD

And both independents and Democrats look askance at Fox News, with fewer than 2 in 5 respondents finding it trustworthy.

The split, in other words, couldn’t be much sharper. And I would wager that there’s little that Trump can do over the next weeks and months to widen that gaping divide.

AD

Gallup examines results over a 20-year period. These trends didn’t appear with Trump, and they won’t go away with him.

Second, there is a significant loser in the trust battle over that long time period: CNN. Trust in the network decreased sharply — from 64 percent to 48 percent who consider it trustworthy. (Despite this, CNN remains, overall, more trustworthy than Fox News among all groups.)

Republicans diss CNN with a 20 percent trust rating. Independents give it 48 percent. Only Democrats give it a high trust rating, at 72 percent.

AD

Again, this is not merely the Trump effect.

The changing view of CNN since the late 1990s surely reflects the growing partisanship of American politics overall. And is partly a result of the increasing dominance on cable of Fox News, which moguls Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes set up for the very purpose of fostering mistrust in the mainstream media — and taking financial advantage of the resulting divide.

AD

A milder version of this same trend is true for the network news and probably for much the same reason.

Still, Trump’s attacks on the news media are ugly and destructive. They deepen partisanship. They erode the bedrock democratic idea that there is a common set of facts underlying our politics.

Granted, media outlets are far from perfect. Mainstream journalists make mistakes, and need to do a better job of owning them and improving their record of fairness and accuracy.

AD

But for the most part, they get the facts right and strive — sometimes to a fault — for neutrality and balance. We need journalists and news organizations to continue to do their jobs, and do them better than ever.

AD

And so, my third takeaway: Trump’s attacks on news outlets won’t make much difference to the media industry itself or individual journalists.

The trends are already firmly in place. The choir has already been thoroughly preached to, and is ready to sing.

But the president’s ramped-up rhetoric will do damage nonetheless by further dividing a torn-apart nation.

It’s going to be a long 14 months.

For more by Margaret Sullivan visit wapo.st/sullivan

AD
AD