Donald Trump’s attacks on the media should have everyone terrified — here’s why
Meet the new boss — same as the old boss.
President-elect Donald Trump paved his way to the White House with sneers and jeers at the press corps.
At campaign rallies, Trump incited his followers to glare at the reporters gathered in the back. At news conferences and on Twitter, he mocked correspondents for their lack of brains, of looks and of honesty.
He called the media "crooked" so many times that a group of former White House staffers even picked up the name for their new business venture.
Trump's press conference Wednesday — his first in a whopping 167 days — started off, of course, with a throaty indictment of the press. The question-and-answer session reached a crescendo with a refusal to take a question from representatives of what he considered hostile — or in his words, "fake" — news outlets.
"As far as BuzzFeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they're going to suffer the consequences, I think they already are," said Trump, who also unloaded on a CNN reporter, calling the cable news giant "fake news."
The source of Trump's ire: Reports from the outlets about a dossier claiming Russia had compiled damaging personal information about the president-elect.
It's not clear how long the issue will dog the Republican mogul, who will be sworn in as president in a matter of days.
One thing Trump has clearly kept in mind from the start of his campaign, however, is that dumping on the media sells — big league.
For all the hundreds of reporters who crammed themselves into Trump Tower to lob questions at him, Trump and his team knew all too well that at news conferences, just as at televised party conventions, the people who matter aren't necessarily the ones in the room, but the ones watching from the outside.
"Wednesday's spectacle of a press conference played right into Trump's big (or small?) hands," James Warren, chief media writer for the nonprofit Poynter Institute of Media Studies, said in an email, "especially with the shouting of questions by the ravenous pack and his facile derision of BuzzFeed and CNN."
The goal, as always, Warren said, is "bash the press, bash the press. If it helped to get him to the White House, why might one think he'd change once there?"
His ego was unbounded before he was elected. Imagine what it will be like once he commands the Oval Office. And given his tragically thin skin, there will only be more excuses to vent, to send gratuitous tweets and publicly call out even the finest journalists, once he's written about more often than any other individual on the planet.
"It's a train wreck very much of his own making but, for now, it's to his political advantage," Warren said. "But that's not an inevitable and enduring condition."
With the fireworks over, the press quickly retreated into its typical bubble of self-justification — the echo chamber in which everyone with a laptop, camera or microphone explains that they're just trying to do the right thing in the name of informing the public and holding the powerful accountable, or applauds those who say they are.
"As a JMU journalism professor, I'm proud of how @Acosta stood his ground with Trump," James Madison University professor Ryan Parkhurst, tweeted, referring to CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta. "We need more reporters like that."
"I learned two things from the press conference: 1. #Trump is as scary as ever and 2. We reporters need to step up our game to call out his BS," multimedia journalist Alyssa Shaffer tweeted.
How much Team Trump wants to play ball with the press corps once it takes over the Oval Office following the Jan. 20 inauguration remains to be seen.
If the rebukes issued Wednesday by incoming Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Trump himself are any indication, there will at the very least be an uneasy start to the relationship between Trump and the press. It could be a very long four — or eight —years for both sides.
To be fair, the transition team's press operation has made some conciliatory noises when it comes to future transparency and cooperation, including holding a meeting with officials of the White House Correspondents' Association early this month.
"They made some reassurances to us that we are pleased about," said WHCA president Jeff Mason, according to a Jan. 5 pool report.
"One is that they will respect the formation and the use of the protective pool in its current form going forward. That includes covering the president both at the White House, when he leaves the White House, and when he flies on Air Force One."
That came after a dustup shortly after the election — much bemoaned by reporters and much belittled by some segments of the public — in which Trump ditched the pool reporters on duty in Manhattan for a jaunt to a restaurant.
After that incident, in which he skipped out to the 21 Club, a Trump spokesman tried to make nice with the press, saying there had been a misunderstanding and promising to avoid such situations again — although there was a similar occurrence over the holidays, when Trump had to make a tee time.
Trump and his team may reach detente after a settling-in period at the White House. At some point, the man who so skillfully used the media — as a punching bag — to achieve his political goals may realize he needs the press to get through his term. And the press can certainly scrutinize Trump's track record and performance without his say-so.
For now, though, Trump's stalwart followers are all too willing to believe that it's Trump, not a skeptical watchdog press, who will "Make America Great Again."
In a new media landscape where politicians can bypass the media filter with a tweet and terms like "dystopia" and "post-truth" have become buzzwords, expect Trump to keep egging those diehard fans on every step of the way.