It is coming as a shock to many people, most of all to the principals themselves, that the Trump administration and most pointedly the President, have declared war on the mainstream media. The indignation exhibited by the largest of the large, the major news organization of the NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times, ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN, is a wonder to behold. They are not accustomed to persistent questioning of their self-described integrity and objectivity let alone having an administration not only question but push back to this degree.
Certainly in the past there have been instances of questioning and push back beginning in 1969 when former Federal Reserve economist Reed Irvine started the first conservative media watchdog group, Accuracy in Media, which continues to this day. A year after AIM was founded, then Vice President Spiro Agnew famously called the media “nattering nabobs of negativism,” the brilliant alliterative put-down for the ages penned by his speechwriter and subsequent long-term language maven for, of all places, the NY Times, the great William Safire. During the Reagan administration, there were contentious relations, but the acrimony was limited to the cabinet and other officials while President Reagan used humor and an uncanny ability to talk over their heads to deal with the media. Finally, in 1987, the Media Research Center was founded to both complement and extend the work of AIM in that MRC also examines the entertainment industry’s political bias.
However, these did not deter the media nor trouble them because they simply brush off or ignore most criticism and then use their own to act as media watchdogs. In terms of the Republican administrations after Reagan, the George Herbert Walker and George W Bush administrations, the media were given essentially carte blanche to pummel them with no defense raised especially during the administration of George W. Bush with its hapless press secretary Scott McClellan and resolve from the President not to engage the press but rather let history decide on who was right. Throw in that most Republicans in Washington puddle the floor should anything negative be written or broadcast about them making them easily compliant, and you have a mainstream media that considers itself invulnerable and privileged.
So it is to their profound and daily dismay that the Trump administration continually goes right back at them for their reporting. Initially, they responded in their usual manner with the time-worn mantra, “We are the media. We are objective. We are objective because we are journalists. We resent any implication otherwise.” followed by trashing those who had the temerity to question them. Finding that did not work because unlike the Washington Republicans, Trump and company do not puddle the floor anytime the media look askance at them, they began seeking out the help of allies within the administration in other words, Obama holdovers. This has been somewhat effective in creating problems for the administration with the most notable being the ouster of National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn after leaks from within the intelligence agencies detailed his pre-administration conversation with a Russian official.
What has not happened, though, is any sign of backing down from the Trump administration. In fact, they have taken to escalation. One way is by removing the privileges that the major media organizations unofficially enjoy such as always being called on during press briefings and news conferences. This is really long overdue anyway to broaden the scope of participation and questions raised rather than concentrate on the same old same old. Of course, the same old same old are not very happy about this and portray it as an attack on the First Amendment which more than anything betrays their feelings toward other members of the media whom they obviously consider to be unworthy and lesser.
Taking it a step further, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently held a pool briefing which is limited in scope with the understanding that the organizations attending will share what they learned with the rest of the media. Traditionally such briefings consist of the major media organizations plus a few others, but for this particular briefing certain media organizations were not invited while others who normally do not attend were invited. This brought immediate howls of indignation and characterizations of being banned by the non-invitees of CNN, NY Times, Politico and the LA Times and a formal protest from the White House Correspondents Association who claims they get to determine who attends not the White House. The Trump administration apparently does not agree.
What is really going on, and has been for some time but only just now is being painfully discovered by the major media organizations is that their long run of dictating terms is over and there is no one to blame but themselves. They have pushed a left of center viewpoint going back to the 1930s when Walter Duranty of the NY Times was purposely filing false reports on the Soviet Union claiming Stalin was not committing genocide because Duranty and the Times were in full support of Soviet communist aims. It continued for the Times with flattering profiles and stories about other communists of the 20th century including Mao Tse-tung, Fidel Castro, and Daniel Ortega. In the late 1960s, Walter Cronkite could no longer contain his leanings and began not just editorializing about the Vietnam War on an almost nightly basis but changing the character of the news division’s reporting. The rest of the media soon followed suit and matters exponentially changed when Richard Nixon was elected President in 1968.
Nixon was already a hated figure in media circles from his two terms as Dwight Eisenhower’s strongly anti-communist Vice President in the 1950s, but his return to Washington was more than they could bear. What ensued was a protracted war that included the aforementioned Agnew but ultimately the media’s target was Nixon and they went at him with everything they could. In 1974, Nixon was forced to resign for his role in Watergate rather than face certain impeachment and removal. For their part, the media turned Watergate into an obsession that not only led to Nixon’s departure but also cemented their reputation as a force and inspired multiple generations to pursue journalism. However, the journalism pursued is based on Watergate as the most egregious scandal in Washington history and Nixon as the most corrupt and evil President in history with the media as avenging angels to prevent reoccurrences by confronting Nixon’s descendants, that is, the Republican party and especially conservatives.
If all of this is true, and it is, then why is President Donald J. Trump who is not a lifelong Republican and not a full-fledged conservative, such a villain for the media? Part of the reason is that lifelong or not, he was elected as a Republican which is enough for them to attack him. More so, things have devolved to the point with the mainstream media where they are openly boosters of the Democrat Party and their candidates. This was first seen when Bill Clinton ran for President in 1992 and the mainstream media saw in him a fellow baby boomer whom they wanted in office over the patrician George Herbert Walker Bush. Of course, nothing compares with their outright adulation and cultish worship of Barack Hussein Obama and anything associated with him. They latched onto him during the 2008 campaign and never let go.
When the 2016 election came to the fore in early 2013, it was clear that the Democrat nominee was going to be Hillary Clinton and the mainstream media and the Democrat Party piled in behind her. While the people and some of the media moved to Bernie Sanders, the party stayed with Mrs. Clinton and delivered her the nomination. The small dalliance with Sanders over, the media came back to Mrs. Clinton’s side and trained their guns on her opponent, one Donald J. Trump. What they did not count on was Trump not only training his guns on them, but having bigger guns.
His election on November 8, 2016 left them utterly demoralized and stunned because he did not just beat Mrs. Clinton, he beat them. It took them a week or so to recover, but they got their bearings and served notice on him that they were back and in opposition. For his part, President Trump went about his business and tweaked them more than anything else. It was his inauguration, however, that touched off the war when the media reported on the size of the inauguration crowds using pictures from early in the day to buttress their claim that it was not well-attended. Trump fought back and it was on like Donkey Kong.
Today, tomorrow and a bunch more tomorrows will see this war, Trump vs. The Mainstream Media, continue and intensify. It will end when the mainstream media stops being an opposition party and extension of the Democrats and resumes being the vital institution that keeps government, all government, not just one party in government, honest and accountable to the American people. Then there will just be friction between them and the Trump administration. The kind of friction that The Framers envisioned as healthy and necessary for the country to function in the best interests of all