Media Critic in Chief

After a weekend largely spent “tweeting” his indignation about a curtain call oration at a Broadway play and a skit on a satirical comedy show, president-elect Donald Trump returned to work on Monday with an effort to bully the television news media into giving him more favorable coverage. That’s how we’ll describe his off-the-record-but-inevitably-leaked meeting with the heads of several networks, at any rate, at least while we still can still do so without fear of recriminations.
The meeting was first reported by the tabloid New York Post, which described it as a gerund-form-of-the-F-word “firing squad,” quoting an unnamed source, and the more polite broadsheets found more suitable language to say pretty much the same thing. The New York Post’s unnamed source recounts Trump telling Cable News Network’s head honcho Jeff Zucker that “I hate your network, everyone at CNN is a liar, you should be ashamed,” with a second unnamed source saying that Trump called the news outlet “a network of liars” and singled out the National Broadcasting Corporation for similar disparagement. The Washington Post’s article, headlined “A defiant Trump meets the TV news crowd in private — and let’s them have it,” corroborates that “The president-elect specifically called out reporting by CNN and NBC that he deemed unfair, according to four people who attended the meeting, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was off the record.” The scooped New York Times headlined its report with a familiar-sounding “Trump Summons TV Figures for Private Meeting, and Lets Them Have It,” citing unnamed sources with the same information. Each paper added some quotes by Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway about how very “cordial,” “productive,” and “congenial” the meeting was, but even she acknowledged it was also “very candid and very honest,” which we’ll interpret to mean a gerund-form-of-the-F-word firing squad.
All of which was lustily celebrated in the newer and more Trump-friendly media. The Drudge report linked to the New York Post story with the headline “BEAT THE PRESS: TRUMP TOWER SHOWDOWN WITH MEDIA ELITE,” and the Breitbart News site, until recently run by Trump’s newly appointed “Chief Strategist,” went with “Trump Eats the Press.” We spent our driving-around time on Monday listening to old rockabilly and garage band mix tapes rather than talk radio, but we’re quite sure all the hosts were happy to hear that all the media they constantly rail against got a presidential dressing-down. The more die-hard sorts of Trump supporters, who routinely harassed the same networks and newspapers at Trump’s urging during his rallies throughout the campaign, were no doubt similarly delighted.
Which is not hard to understand, given that much of the ancien regime media have indeed long been relentlessly hostile toward Republicans in general and the putatively Republican Trump in particular, and often unfairly, but we still find it somewhat unsettling. Although we are also frequent critics of the press, we think that Trump’s critique is conspicuously self-serving, and in many cases unfair. We wonder why Trump isn’t thanking CNN for all those endless hours of live coverage of his raucous rallies while almost completely ignoring his many vastly more qualified challengers during the Republican primaries, and although we have to admit that he’s got a point about NBC he should admit they also didn’t do those primary challengers any favors, nor did they do his Democratic rival much good. The Washington Post and The New York Times and other singled-out media gave thorough coverage of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s countless undeniable scandals, even if it was less prominent than on the front pages than their thorough coverage of Trump’s countless undeniable scandals, and by now their biases are as familiar to the public as those of The Drudge Report or Breitbart News or any of those talk radio show hosts.
Our view is that all of the media, both those hostile to Trump and those angrily supportive of him, should be able publish or broadcast whatever they want. They should all be subject to the same sort of scrutiny to they apply to public figures and one another as well, and a president or president-elect should have the same rights to express an opinion about it as anyone else, but no one should have the power of retribution or censorship. Trump’s past vows to “open up the libel laws” and to target certain press barons’ other business interests and cut off media access to his administration lent an air of menace to Monday’s meeting, and those cheering him on should take a moment of self-interested consideration about how it might affect them during an inevitable future Democratic administration.

— Bud Norman

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