The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The free press doesn’t understand yet that it’s them or Trump

(Tom Toles/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

So Donald Trump began his presidency with a large, pointless lie about inauguration attendance numbers that was easily disproved, then defended it, then walked it halfway back. The media puzzled at the offense and felt somewhat pleased that the administration sort of took it back.

Talk about missing the main story.

The real story here is the same one it’s been all along. Trump is a liar when he wants to be, and he will continue to be one. He is never going to back down from this pattern. Two steps into your face and one step back isn’t a victory for you; it’s a victory for him. And among his many targets, yes, Trump seems to want to use, subvert and ultimately destroy the independent press in the United States.

How do we know this? How long have you been asleep?

The press is his enemy simply by not being his friend. So it’s either do as he wishes, or it’s war. And Trump plays for keeps. He keeps at it until his enemies capitulate or are ruined. The press loves to play the game of psychoanalysis of political figures, except when it really matters. What does the number of buttons on Al Gore’s coat say about him? What’s with Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits? But when it’s clear from Trump’s entire life history that he will relentlessly seek to tame or destroy opposing voices, the media would rather think about staff spats in the new White House, and who’s on top today.

Trump will continue his periodic attacks on the media to the degree that he can get away with it, but meanwhile you can be sure he will be working on building a network of cooperative and obedient channels of communication. It’s a one-two punch he will continue to pummel independent voices with, until such time as he has the clout to start curbing the free press more directly; for example, by acting on the threat he has already delivered to “open up” the libel laws.

While the media continue to attempt a game of pat-a-cake with Trump, and chase their own tail as Trump so enjoys baiting them into doing, they had better look down the road to see where this leads for them. To me it looks like we will eventually have a full day of live video in which the media will be covering their own funeral.

Trump will tell us how few attended.