Trump's War on 'Fake News' Offers a Great Civics Lesson
A Commentary By Charles Hurt
President Trump is lashing out against “fake news” in what is quite possibly the greatest civics-journalism course ever publicly taught in America.
Also, there is Mr. Trump’s relentless interaction with the press. And I don’t just mean the big guys. I mean the little local guys from Poughkeepsie, piped into the White House briefing room for awkward questions asked by disemboweled local anchors.
At the end of the day, Mr. Trump is still not done. So he turns to Twitter to unleash yet more unfiltered news awesomeness onto the American media landscape.
Welcome to the Age of Raw Journalism. Truly, a new dawn in American media. Drink fully from it, for the flowing bounty has never been like this ever before, and who knows if and when it will ever end.
It is the confluence of instant information, manic technologies and a political figure who has the strength, fearlessness and stamina to keep it going around the clock.
So let’s check in with the professionals, the folks who stand to benefit the most from this most generous newsmaker.
“This is how the muzzling starts,” New York Times media drip Jim Rutenberg warned ominously, “not with a boot on your neck, but with the fear of one that runs so deep that you muzzle yourself.”
Not sure exactly what that means, but I checked twice to make sure I copied it correctly.
“Maybe it’s the story you decide against doing because it’s liable to provoke a press-bullying president to put the power of his office behind his attempt to destroy your reputation by falsely calling your journalism ‘fake.’
“Maybe it’s the line you hold back from your script or your article because it could trigger a federal leak investigation into you and your sources (so, yeah, jail).”
All of that is from an actual report by Mr. Rutenberg in the once-great newspaper that is now, according to the president, “failing.”
Everywhere you turn today, reporters are gasping that the First Amendment is somehow under assault by Mr. Trump. White House reporters say they are under siege during daily briefings with Sean Spicer insulting them, rudely answering questions and assaulting them with the actual White House podium.
OK, that last one I made up, but it was from the first funny skit “Saturday Night Live” has come up with in decades.
But let’s seriously consider how Mr. Trump is handling the press.
He gave a one-hour, 17-minute press briefing in the White House last Thursday. He walked in and began by “mentioning” the name of his new nominee for labor secretary. And then he turned the whole thing over to reporters.
All modern presidents have opened such briefings with a list of handpicked reporters they would call on to ensure they only got the type of questions they wanted. Nobody in the doormat press corps ever complains about that.
Donald Trump threw the gates wide open. If he walked in with a list, he tossed it aside by the time he got going. He was up there pointing to random reporters and pitting them against one another, at times barking like a tobacco auctioneer.
He took any and all questions.
He was tough, he was funny, he was belligerent. But he was always engaging.
Mr. Trump’s immediate predecessor was famous for taking eight questions and bloviating at length and droning on long enough on each question that he would stretch it out to 50 minutes. He never wavered, of course, from his list of approved questioners.
In Mr. Trump’s freewheeling press conference, he answered questions from two dozen reporters, more than 40 questions total if you include follow-ups.
And the entire thing was riveting and revealing and supremely watchable. How is this an affront to the First Amendment?
Katy Tur, another journalistic lion over on the MSNBC television channel, was recently interviewing a Republican in Congress.
“As we know, there’s since 2000 been a couple dozen suspicious deaths of journalists in Russia who came out against the government there,” Ms. Tur said. “Donald Trump has made no secret about going after journalists and his distaste for any news that doesn’t agree with him here. Do you find that this is a dangerous path he is heading down?”
So Donald Trump likes to mix it up with reporters and challenge them? So next step is he’s going to start killing them?
OK, I am not in the least bit concerned about the First Amendment in America with Mr. Trump in the White House.
But we are seriously on the precipice of doom if fragile dopes like Katy Tur are our last line of defense.
• Charles Hurt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter via @charleshurt.
See Other Political Commentary by Charles Hurt.
See Other Political Commentary.
Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author or syndicate.
Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.
We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.
Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $4.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.
To learn more about our methodology, click here.