Editor’s Note: Doomsday tone could backfire
Some rules of engagement would be welcome in the war between President Donald Trump and the press.
The new president has made the media his whipping boy; he’s not the first to do so, but he is perhaps the most aggressive and offensive.
In attaching the words “fake news” and “failing” to every reference to the press, Trump has a couple of objectives. First, he learned very well from the campaign that there is little downside for him in personally attacking reporters and news outlets. His base loves it. And he believes it adds sheen to his persona of a tough guy taking on the establishment.
And second, in discrediting the media, he can minimize the impact of its reporting.
The media is playing into his game, hollering “stop the presses” whenever he opens his mouth.
Tom Bevan of Real Clear Politics warned last week of the danger of the apocalyptic tone of Trump coverage: “If everything is a scandal, nothing is. ... The public is tuning it out.”
The media, as Bevan noted, is “in a constant state of outrage.”
There has to be a hierarchy of hysteria. Treating every incident as if Trump had just pushed the red button makes it hard for readers and viewers to know when something should really grab their attention.
It’s also leading to sloppy work. Outlets are too willing to go up with sketchy reports from anonymous sources without verification. They’re getting too much wrong — or only half right — lending credence to Trump’s contention that they’re out to get him.
Too many reporters are responding personally to Trump tweets, showing their hand in a way I’ve never seen before.
The instinct to defend yourself and your profession is powerful and understandable, particularly when you’ve been labeled an “enemy of the people” by a president who would like nothing more than to silence the people’s watchdogs.
But the only way to win this battle is to double down on fairness and objectivity.