The Media Versus America

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You might call it The Media versus America.

The President of the United States held a press conference on Thursday. On that, everyone agreed. But after that? Here’s a sample of the headline reaction.

The New York Times (print version): An Aggrieved President Moves His Surrogates Aside

The Washington Post: Debrief: In an erratic performance, Trump shows his supporters who’s boss

Princeton Professor of History and Public Affairs Julian Zelizer writing at CNN.com: Trump’s performance fuels worry about his presidency going off the rails

CBS's Face the Nation moderator John Dickerson: Trump's news conference not reassuring to Hill GOP

Morning Joe’s Joe Scarborough at MSNBC: Trump is the first sore winner we’ve ever seen

Newsweek: Trump’s Press Conference Nearly Defies Description

And these are just a handful of samples from around the media landscape. Words like “unhinged” a particular favorite to describe the event.

But wait! My CNN colleague, the conservative writer Salena Zito, tweeted out this: “Listening to DJT press conf., in middle of PA and watching press on my twitter is like parallel universe -- people think he is doing well.”

Then there was Matt Lewis of the Daily Beast tweeting this “from a buddy” out West: “I’m at gym. Everyone watching press conference. They are laughing and consistently say he is eating them up. Press doesn’t get what he has done.”

These sentiments matched exactly that of Rush Limbaugh, who said the Trump presser was “one of the most effective press conferences I have ever seen.”

And right there in those two postings from Zito and Lewis, and as acclaimed by Rush, is the problem the liberal media faces in the Media versus America. The Trump press conference did indeed reveal — yet again — the extraordinary gulf between Trump supporting Americans and the (frequently coastal) elites in both the media and political circles.

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Listen again to this section of Trump’s press conference. Here’s the President, looking his media adversaries squarely in the eye –– with bold print supplied by me:

This morning, because many of our nation's reporters and folks will not tell you the truth, and will not treat the wonderful people of our country with the respect that they deserve. And I hope going forward we can be a little bit -- a little bit different, and maybe get along a little bit better, if that's possible. Maybe it's not, and that's OK, too.

Unfortunately, much of the media in Washington, D.C., along with New York, Los Angeles in particular, speaks not for the people, but for the special interests and for those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system. The press has become so dishonest that if we don't talk about, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Tremendous disservice. We have to talk to find out what's going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.

I ran for President to present the citizens of our country. I am here to change the broken system so it serves their families and their communities well. I am talking -- and really talking on this very entrenched power structure, and what we're doing is we're talking about the power structure; we're talking about its entrenchment. As a result, the media is going through what they have to go through too often times distort - not all the time — and some of the media is fantastic, I have to say — they're honest and fantastic.

But much of it is not a — the distortion — and we'll talk about it, you'll be able to ask me questions about it. But we're not going to let it happen, because I'm here again, to take my message straight to the people.

This is hardly President George H.W. Bush caught in an unexpectedly desperate campaign for re-election against the young Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton in 1992, pleading with voters to vote for him “to annoy the media.” This is a full on, direct and quite frontally “in your face” assault against the major media institutions in America. Today, its CNN. During the early stages of his campaign, it was Fox and Megyn Kelly. 

At other stages, it has been the “failing New York Times” with both The Times and The Post having accused by Trump of coverage that’s “been so false and angry.” The Wall Street Journal? He went after them as “dummies.” He has attacked NBC’s Katy Tur, MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski and NBC’s Today. And not to be forgotten are attacks on the network’s Saturday Night Live. And there’s oh so much more in the way of examples!

Suffice to say, as might be expected, the media has huffed and puffed, with some spending their time during the campaign trying to blow his political house down — and failing.

But instead of all the expected angry back and forth, what if — gasp! – the media writ large took a good long look at itself. My CNN colleague Brian Stelter took a step in this direction in the aftermath of the election, spending one of his Reliable Sources shows examining what the media got wrong. 

In reporting on this, Mediaite wrote it up, in part, this way:

The Atlantic‘s Molly Ball argued that one of the problems is that the press spends too much time talking to politicians or consultants instead of the actual voters looking at Trump and judging him.

Throughout the show, Stelter and various guests from different media outlets looked at how cable news, print, and online media all covered Trump and whether the very unfavorable coverage reflects a certain “snobbery” on the part of the press towards Trump’s voters.

And then there is Fox’s Sean Hannity who has flatly declared this, as written up in the Hollywood Reporter, “Fox News' Sean Hannity Declares ‘Journalism in America Is Dead’”:

Sean Hannity has been among President Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters. He saw the ‘movement’ fomenting early on, owing, he says, to his working-class roots, which go back to tender years as an 8-year-old paper boy and continued into adulthood when he spent a decade working as a contractor. ‘That’s 20 years of my life was hard, blue-collar work,’ he says. ‘And while now I am in this group of people frankly that are all overpaid in media — let's be honest, especially for the jobs that half these people do, they don't deserve anything.’

But the point is, he continues, ‘they do not connect with those people.’ The talk radio host and Fox News Channel personality has a big megaphone: 3 million viewers watch him each night on Fox. And he’s going to continue to employ it against Trump’s foes, especially ‘the agenda-driven hard left’ mainstream media.

In other words? Across the political spectrum, there are in fact people who get it. The media is out of touch. It isn’t just that it’s Left — which it is — but it has also long since ceased having honest and open conversations with the millions of Americans who have come over the decades to view the talking heads as a bunch of overprivileged arrogant and self-centered jerks who look down on the very people who get up everyday and make this country work.

Lost in all the commotion over the Trump press conference was exactly the olive branch he in fact held out that day in the East Room. Again, the President said this:

The press has become so dishonest that if we don't talk about, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Tremendous disservice. We have to talk to find out what's going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.

How should the media react to this?  A suggestion here. No one is threatening the First Amendment. Hysteria about that does not help the situation. But it certainly seems that journalists across the media would do well to do some soul searching in their own individual Bat Caves. If they want to be liberals or conservatives or Trump supporters or Never Trumpers or whatever — well then have at it. But for those who construct the daily ebb and flow of individual stories that have come to be dubbed “narratives?”

Wouldn’t it be better — more productive and more credible — to stop reflexively looking across the country and filling airwaves and print space with stories that are always trying to portray, say, Trump supporters/conservatives/Republicans as a bunch of racist-sexist-homophobic-Islamaphobic-xenophobic frothing immigrant haters? 

Aside from the fact that this is, in reality, preposterously untrue, it doesn’t help the journalists to do their jobs well — not to mention that it eats away at their credibility. As a result, a significant portion of the country has arrived at the conclusion to not believe a single thing they say.

Perhaps in the fashion of only Nixon could go to China, it may well be that President Trump — he who is loathed by so many journos and never hesitates to dish it right back to them — could turn out to be the President who finally, in an open and candid fashion, restores journalism’s reputation with millions of Americans. 

Is it a long shot? Yes indeed. But after that press conference the other day, it is worth a moment to take a serious look at what the President was saying — and for liberal media types to consider taking him at his word. And if this doesn’t pan out? 

Then stay tuned for Episode Two Zillion in the ongoing tale of the Media versus America.