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President Trump found something to briefly celebrate Monday, some bad news for what are emerging as his biggest detractors during the virus crisis: the media.
“Advertising in the Failing New York Times is WAY down. Washington Post is not much better,” he tweeted. “I can’t say whether this is because they are Fake News sources of information, to a level that few can understand, or the Virus is just plain beating them up. Fake News is bad for America!”
Whatever the merits of Trump’s dissatisfaction with the two papers, it’s clear that advertising has plunged because some companies are shut down while others are slashing spending while most of their customers are stranded at home.
PANDEMIC POLITICS: TRUMP, BIDEN AND THE VIRTUAL CAMPAIGN
As America’s coronavirus death toll exceeds 10,000, two clashing narratives have come to define the president’s handling of the pandemic. Trump is courageously leading the country with a disruptive approach despite the naysayers, according to his supporters, or, from a press perspective, he is royally botching the emergency because of severe character limitations.
Trump posted four positive retweets after Sunday’s edition of “Media Buzz” as he embraced criticism of the press. It’s not the first time he’s commented on my program, sometimes critically–he’s also called supporters after their appearances–but it underscores a sharp focus on his coverage as a self-proclaimed wartime president.
For instance, he retweeted conservative commentator Gayle Trotter as saying “to this day the establishment have not admitted that they were wrong and the president was right.” She was talking about his early restrictions on travel from China, but did not address, as I pursued with other guests, media criticism of a slow response on testing, medical supplies and recognizing the magnitude of the threat. (Some in the press, in fairness, also minimized the potential impact as late as February–NBC didn’t ask a single virus question at its Democratic debate that month.)
The president seems increasingly disgusted with the media, even beyond the bitter hostilities of the Russia probe and the impeachment battle. At pressers over the weekend, he accused certain outlets of spreading false rumors, fear and panic.
And, given the life-and-death stakes, the press seems increasingly angry with Trump. Liberal Times columnist Frank Bruni says he’s “shriveling into nothingness” in a piece titled “Has Anyone Found Trump’s Soul? Anyone?”
CNN’s Don Lemon, and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes, say cable news shouldn’t carry the Trump briefings live because he spreads lies and misinformation.
The president, for his part, is increasingly doing verbal combat with reporters. Last night, when Fox News’ Kristin Fisher asked about an HHS inspector general’s report detailing problems with testing, the president told her: “You should say congratulations, great job, instead of being so horrid in the way that you ask a question.”
And when ABC’s Jonathan Karl followed up on that report, Trump called him a “third-rate reporter” who “will never make it.” Karl is president of the White House Correspondents Association.
Trump has also taken swipes at such correspondents as NBC’s Peter Alexander, PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor, CNN’s Jim Acosta and CBS’s Weijia Jiang. It was particularly noteworthy that he called one of Alcindor’s questions “threatening” when she accurately quoted his evolving position on the feds providing ventilators.
SUBSCRIBE TO HOWIE’S MEDIA BUZZMETER PODCAST, A RIFF OF THE DAY’S HOTTEST STORIES
A number of people on my Twitter feed agree with Trump and Trotter that reporters are peppering the president with “gotcha” questions. These are usually along the lines of “you said X and now you’re doing Y.” But every politician faces gotcha questions–some fair, some unfair–and finessing them is part of the job. I don’t recall Trump supporters demanding that reporters be positive when Barack Obama or Bill Clinton was grappling with difficulties.
In another tweet tied to Trotter, Trump said Monday: “I only wish the public could fully understand how corrupt & dishonest so much of our Lamestream Media is.”
It’s also fascinating that Trump is fighting some side battles during the pandemic. After firing Michael Atkinson as the intelligence community’s IG, the president called him a “disgrace.” Atkinson’s sin was notifying the Hill of the whistle-blower’s complaint on Ukraine. He said Monday “it is hard not to think that the president’s loss of confidence in me derives from my having faithfully discharged my legal obligations as an independent and impartial inspector general.” My question is, why would Trump engage in such score-settling right now?
In such a polarized country, somewhere around half the public is going to cheer Trump’s evisceration of the press, and somewhere around half is going to applaud the journalistic denunciations of the president. But right now people are dying. We’re facing what Trump’s surgeon general called a Pearl Harbor moment. And yet the two sides keep carpet-bombing each other.
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