I have to wonder what Donald Trump thinks he is going to accomplish by constantly and repeatedly inciting them against the news media. Every Republican Presidential candidate at least since Reagan has, on occasion, been critical of the media that is covering their campaign, and almost always with good reason. But whereas other candidates have done so as an occasional measure to ensure the thought of media bias remains occasionally in the public mind, Trump leans on it constantly, relentlessly, and ceaselessly.
And what he is doing is also different in both tone and quality. When other Republican candidates have publicly criticized the media, they have also acknowledged their burden to overcome the media’s bias and sell their message to the public on its own merits. Trump, on the other hand, has spent the last two weeks making the media into a scapegoat for an electoral defeat he knows is coming. He is now saying it explicitly: the media is cheating, they are the reason he is behind, if only they would tell the truth about him he would be ahead by 20 points. If you, as a Trump supporter, want to know why you might not get to have President Trump, look no further than the sleazy, dishonest subhumans in the press pen at the back of the rally.
For emphasis, he points. “Them, right over there,” he says. Maybe you are in a big arena and can’t tell where the press – those dishonest worms who lie about me and about you all the time – are holed up. But Trump is here to help. “They’re the ones. Go on, tell them what you think about them.”
This post is not a pity party for the press. If you can’t handle the hostile environment of a Trump rally, you probably are not much of a journalist anyway, and you definitely shouldn’t be covering politics in the charged environment of 2016. I have been in the press pen at a Trump rally this year, in Iowa the day of the caucuses. Back before his supporters had allowed themselves to believe that he might actually lose the Presidency, back before they had as much reason to hate Emmanuel Goldstein, but even then, they all filed past looking at the assembled press like they were some sort of poorly evolved lizards. Some taking tentative steps over to confront the media, but usually restrained by their friends. Occasionally, after they get to their seats, the Trump supporters turn around and stare at you. Sometimes they chant. At the end of the day, no one’s safety is even remotely threatened.
I consider that it’s almost a certainty that it is worse for the press now than it was back in the halcyon and comparatively downright civil days of January 2016, but still – there are many serious media jobs that require covering news in environments that pose significant danger for the journalist, way more than the worst Trump rally.
So as I said, this is not a pity party for the press.
It’s a post wondering what Trump thinks he will gain by doing this?
I guess one possibility is that he just wants to discredit the media, and by doing so, create additional skepticism about factual reporting regarding things he has said or done (and given Trump’s erratic behavior, Lord knows that would really help his cause). However, it seems difficult to imagine that this kind of juvenile broadside is even possibly persuasive to anyone who isn’t already thoroughly convinced that the media pretty much always lies, even when their lies are backed up by actual documentary or video evidence.
I would regard that Trump’s actual goal is that he really thinks he can alter the tone of the media’s coverage towards him. He’s doing business the way he always has done – threatening, harassment, abuse of the legal system, intimidation towards his enemies – the only way your enemy will kowtow before you properly is if you break him first.
If that is his goal, he has vastly misunderstood the enemy he is currently fighting. Being harassed by Trump’s wild-eyed supporters at rallies provides the media with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something they all dream of: having a legitimate excuse to be part of the story itself. Instead of changing the media’s coverage towards him in a possible way, Trump is just giving journalists additional material by providing them with video of his worst supporters acting in the way his worst supporters always act, and turning members of the media into actual martyrs (at least, in the portrayal of the media).
So well done, Donald. The media is probably going to change the way they cover your campaign – but whether that works out for you remains to be seen.