At some point, every president enters a black or white stage with the public: The president is either loved or hated, and there’s not much that will move people from their positions.
But no president has seen those opinions lock in as quickly as Donald Trump has. (That’s neither a compliment nor a criticism, so please put your pitchforks away.)
When those hardened positions are formed, the public will turn to media organizations they trust in order to gather more information about the current administration. Sure, sometimes those media organizations lean left while others lean right. But in 2017, it’s different.
One of Trump’s signature tactics thus far has been to attack the media to a degree no president has in 40 years. Depending upon the organizations he has in mind, Trump considers them “fake news,” “liars,” “awful” and “enemies of the American People.”
I’ve made no secret on this blog that I find those remarks dictatorial. The media are an essential component to democracy, something which George W. Bush, who always had public spats with journalists, noted in his recent interview with NBC’s Today show.
One effect, likely unintended, of Trump’s diatribes has been a strong public affirmation of the importance of these news organizations. As the Economist notes,
The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have all received boosts in subscriptions and page views; cable news networks, such as CNN and the Fox News Channel, are getting huge increases in viewers at a time when most other channels are losing them; and even the long-suffering stocks of newspaper companies are rallying. Since the election shares in the New York Times Co have risen by 42%, outperforming even the mighty Goldman Sachs.
The battle between an emboldened journalism industry and a take-no-nonsense White House shows no signs of cooling off. Writing in TheHill.com, media analyst Patrick Maines sees two possible solutions to the conflict. He states
So it probably comes down to one of two results: (1) The president is undone politically by GOP defections or through impeachment proceedings; or (2) Trump and his supporters engineer an anti-media campaign with teeth, causing the media to back down.
Let’s be honest: Neither outcome is good. In the first, you have a president who is thrown out of office, a move that will anger a sizable number of the roughly 20% of the electorate that voted for him last November. The office itself will be weakened, requiring his successor to begin the process of strengthening it. In the second, Trump does become more dictator than president, doing unknown harm to democracy.
Yes, journalists who don’t back down are needed (including at the college level, where just one recent event reminds us that too many academic administrators want to trample the First Amendment). What is not needed is a dictator like call to undermine them.
Now a moment of levity (at least for some). Check out the shirts that Texas Student Media are selling as a fundraiser but also to send a potent message to any academic, political or other leader who thinks independent journalism is a problem.