We, the media, had a tough week.
No, this isn't one of those woe-is-me columns about how hard it is to be a political reporter because, well, it's not. (Know what is hard? Being a war correspondent. Or an actual soldier.) I'm well aware that the job I've done day in and day out for 20 or so years is consistently fascinating, entertaining and, dare I say it, fun. And, if we're ranking jobs, it's not in the top 100 of the toughest.
But it got much more difficult last week. That's because President Trump twice launched full-scale assaults on the free and independent press.
The first came at what was billed as an announcement ceremony for Trump's new labor secretary nominee, Alex Acosta. Trump dispatched with that news in short order and then got to why he was really there: to tell reporters — and everyone else watching — how bad the media is.
Here's a sampling of what he said: “Many of our nation's reporters will not tell you the truth.” “The press honestly is out of control.” “The level of dishonesty is out of control.”
And that was before he took a single question!
He wasn't done though — not by a long shot. On Friday afternoon, as he jetted to Florida for a campaign-style rally the next day, Trump fired off this tweet:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2017
That's right. The sitting president of the United States called the press the “enemy of the American People.”
Plenty of presidents have had adversarial relationships with the media. In fact, almost all of them. None have gone out of their way to so denigrate the media or insist that their work runs counter to the well being and wishes of the American public. (Nota bene: The press is far from blameless. We make mistakes. We get things wrong. We need to go out of our way, especially with Trump in the White House, to double and triple check our facts before we publish. And, if we do make mistakes, we need to fully acknowledge them in a totally transparent way.)
There is strategy here for Trump. In bashing the media so publicly and relentlessly, he hopes to divert attention from questions about his administration's ties to Russia, legal problems surrounding his travel ban and the broader sense of chaos that seems to reign at the White House. He knows there are few subjects about which his followers are more passionate than the perceived moral corruption of the media — so what better way to rally them to his cause?
What Trump's attacks on the media will do — and already have done — is make it more difficult for reporters to do their job. The basic elements of journalism — find facts, ask questions, provide context, tell the public — shouldn't be the sort of things that are villainized in a free and democratic society. But when we start using words like “enemy,” that's exactly what Trump is trying to do.
The press, for watching your mission get way tougher in the space of one news conference and one tweet, you had the Worst Week in Washington.