These two things regarding President-elect Donald Trump and the news media have happened over the past 24 hours:
1. Trump huddled with top executives and on-air talent from the major TV networks, scolding them for their alleged lack of fairness in covering him during the 2016 presidential campaign.
2. Trump canceled a planned meeting today with the executives and editors at the New York Times -- via Twitter, natch.
I cancelled today's meeting with the failing @nytimes when the terms and conditions of the meeting were changed at the last moment. Not nice
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 22, 2016
This is, of course, a continuation of how Trump interacted with the media during the campaign -- using it as a punching bag, socked when necessary to accomplish some goal only Trump can see. (Trump reversed course on the New York Times meeting by later Tuesday morning; it is happening as this post is being published.)
There was hope in some media circles that Trump might change his approach to journalists in the wake of his victory, that as the soon-to-be president he would understand that calling major news organizations "failing" or "biased" or "broken" or attacking individual journalists for what he calls their unfair coverage was neither the right nor productive thing to do. Or that he would acquiesce to having a protective media pool with him at all times -- in keeping with a long-standing tradition of how U.S. presidents are covered.
Trump's unchanging attitude toward the media reveals a deeper misunderstanding -- whether purposeful or not -- of what the responsibility of journalists is and should be when it comes to covering the White House.
For Trump, "good" reporters or "good" media outlets are those that report stories that are good for him and/or nice to him. The opposite is also true: You are a "bad" reporter or a "bad" media company if you report on news that paints Trump in a less-than-favorable light -- facts be damned.
So, The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold, who continues to do Pulitzer Prize-worthy work on the major problems with Trump's charitable foundation, is a bad reporter who has a vendetta against Trump -- a totally unsubstantiated (and wrong) allegation. Or, in my case, I am "one of the dumber and least-respected of the political pundits" (Trump said that about me last spring), except when I write something -- like this piece on how it was clear Republican voters wanted him as their nominee -- that he likes. In those cases I am smart and good.
It's all of a piece with Trump's broader worldview: You are either for him or against him. There is absolutely no in between. (There is, however, an ability to move between terrible and good, based on the last article you published and whether or not Trump liked it/perceived it as "good" for him.)
The idea of the media as the intermediary between Trump and the public -- reporting on and analyzing his proposals, contextualizing his statements, fact-checking him (and the Democratic politicians opposing him) -- is totally lost on him. The media is to be judged solely on whether or not they, collectively, are being nice to the president.
Being "nice" to a president or simply writing down what he says is not the news media's job. Most politicians know this -- even if they would prefer that journalists be less adversarial and more willing to just sort of take their word for it. Trump is outside of that normal understanding of how presidents and the people tasked with reporting on them need to interact and understand one another.
In a must-read New Yorker piece on Trump and the media, editor David Remnick quotes a source in the room during Trump's Monday meeting with the TV executives and anchors. “He truly doesn’t seem to understand the First Amendment,” the source told Remnick of Trump. “He doesn’t. He thinks we are supposed to say what he says and that’s it.”
Trump's view of the media won't cause him a second of worry among many of the voters who put him in the White House. The media, they believe, is fundamentally corrupt and biased and deserves every bit of the treatment Trump is dishing out. Which is fine, I guess.
But, ask yourself -- whether you voted for Trump, Hillary Clinton or someone else -- whether it's a good thing for the most powerful person in the country not just to fundamentally misunderstand the news media's role in public accountability but also to work to discredit that media? Your answer should be that it is a very bad thing.