President Trump has once again gone too far. This time it is with his attack on major news media as "the enemy of the American people." But that doesn't mean the attack is 100 percent wrong.
Trump's declaration, in a tweet, was inappropriate mostly because he is the president. The dignity of his office means such attacks should be beneath him. The power of that office makes such rhetoric menacing.
And it was a calculated, deliberate message, not something off the cuff. Trump actually deleted the first draft, added a few more news outlets, fixed a typo, and reposted it.
Campaigners, especially populist ones like Trump, benefit from having a powerful foe to battle against. Eight years ago, President Obama, who like his successor controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress, decided that his enemy would be the corporate world, in particular the Koch brothers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He sought to rally the public against this identified enemy. Trump's choice of "enemy" is the media.
In his Feb. 16 press conference, Trump made the case that the political news media are an important part of an "entrenched power structure" that he was elected to overthrow.
He had campaigned against the conservative movement, the GOP establishment, the Democratic establishment, lobbyists, globalist elites, and the media. The media are indeed entrenched and powerful.
Although casting them as the "enemy of the people" is excessive, the attack wouldn't resonate if big news outlets did not frequently seem to militate against large sections of the public.
Conservatives, working class white men, the denizens of flyover country, and Trump voters often turn on the news or pick up a paper and see media elites attacking them, lying about them, and belittling them.
The media lie about and denigrate religious conservatives. The Washington Post famously described, as a matter of fact in a straight news piece, evangelicals as "largely poor, uneducated and easy to command." That was back in 1993, but mistreatment hasn't abated.
Gun owners got the business end of media slander this summer. Katie Couric, the television host, received rave reviews for a gun violence documentary. In one section, she showed herself asking gun-rights advocates a supposedly tough question about gun control and used dishonest editing to make it seem as though the gun nuts could answer only with awkward silence.
This crowning moment of the film was, of course, a lie. It says a lot that no one would seriously expect anything else. In real life, the gun-rights defenders peppered her with retorts from many perspectives. Couric and crew merely edited in the awkward silence from excess footage. She's a fraud, but she kept her job, kept covering the conventions, and kept her reputation. It's an example of facts not mattering, being trumped by celebrity and the secular left's impregnable pieties.
Trump voters have been among the most attacked of all. One CBS analyst, the political editor at Slate, wrote a piece after the election condemning 63 million people: "There's no such thing as a good Trump voter," Jamelle Bouie wrote.
Vox.com published a poll purporting to prove the assertion that serves as a premise for much of the mainstream media, which is that resistance to immigration is rooted in racism. The website did so by obscuring and ignoring the more difficult truth that "taking away jobs" was the top objection to immigration mentioned by voters.
Another pollster (and many reporters) misrepresented a survey in order to claim Trump voters favor slavery.
Throughout November, the press uncritically reported a wave of hate crimes by Trump supporters. "A Black Church Burned in the Name of Trump," the Atlantic reported, and the Daily Beast called the arsonist one of Trump's "own terrorists." The truth was very different. The arsonist was a hoaxer, actually a black man and a parishioner at the church, who opposed Trump.
Every mainstream reporter seemed to fall for the story of a hijab-clad woman on a metro who claimed Trump supporters assaulted her.
The examples cited here are not remotely comprehensive. They are a tiny sliver of the falsehoods and distortion that amount to a massive, deliberate, nationwide libel against those who support Trump and against the administration itself. One could drop every one of these examples into the trash and come up with just as many fresh examples just as egregious that make the same point. And one could trash those examples too, and come up with yet more. There is an inexhaustable supply.
The media believe and repeats these and dozens of similarly false stories without an ounce of skepticism. The news business is failing in its basic duties to check the facts. And like the accountant whose mistakes always reduce the tax liability of his client, the media's mistakes are not random but fall into a pattern of hostility toward the new administration and those who voted for it. They reveal a tendency, a bias, a willingness to forego the truth in favor of a preferred narrative.
So when President Trump says the press is the enemy of the people, it has a sufficient ring of truth so that it is believed despite the excess of the president's rhetoric.
It's a problem that has repeated itself through this nascent presidency. The media accuse Trump of being unhinged, but they are themselves unmoored from their responsibilities and necessary disciplines.