The president is once again on a tear against the press.
He’s been whacking CNN and the Washington Post, and so-called fake news in general, and getting plenty of pushback in return.
While Donald Trump’s disdain for the media is nothing new, I’m sensing a definite escalation in his tactics, and a growing willingness by some news organizations to accuse him of false statements.
The president has used the press as a foil from the day he got into the race. As I detail in my new book “Media Madness,” sometimes he does this as a political strategy; sometimes he’s just venting, and at other times he’s punching back at what he sees as unfair coverage. And there’s no question the coverage has been overwhelmingly negative.
But Trump also leaves his detractors an opening when he stretches the facts.
The president’s attacks on the “Amazon Washington Post” are a classic example. And I don’t have to rely on unnamed sources to say that he has a bit of a fixation on Amazon and Jeff Bezos. He’s brought it up with me a number of times, including in a 2015 interview on my show. (I posted the video in this “After the Buzz” segment.)
Amazon stock has lost $60 billion since Trump began pounding the online giant on Twitter. He’s made the argument that Amazon doesn’t pay enough in taxes (the company paid nearly $1 billion in sales taxes last year) and is costing the Postal Service money (even if true, doesn’t that mean the service isn’t charging enough for all package deliveries?)
Trump repeated the criticism in response to a reporter’s question at a photo op yesterday.
I’m troubled by the president singling out one company, and having a financial impact, because he doesn’t like its CEO.
His real beef is the Post, as he’s told me and others. Trump tweeted about “the Fake Washington Post, which is used as a ‘lobbyist’ and should so REGISTER.”
Marty Baron, the Post’s executive editor, said no one at the paper is paid by Amazon and that Bezos has told him to cover the company like any other business.
“I can’t say more emphatically he’s never suggested a story to anybody here, he’s never critiqued a story, he’s never suppressed a story,” Baron told the New York Times.
As for CNN, it’s personal between the president and network chief Jeff Zucker, who ran NBC when Trump hosted “The Apprentice.”
Trump tweeted yesterday: “Check out the fact that you can’t get a job at ratings challenged @CNN unless you state that you are totally anti-Trump? Little Jeff Zuker, whose job is in jeopardy, is not having much fun lately. They should clean up and strengthen CNN and get back to honest reporting!”
CNN called the charge “false” on Twitter, saying: “The personal political beliefs of CNN’s employees are of no interest to us. Their pursuit of the truth is our only concern. Also, Jeff’s last name is spelled Z-U-C-K-E-R. Those are the facts.”
The Trump tweet didn’t come out of the blue. It materialized after CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta shouted two questions about DACA at the Easter egg roll, while the president sat with his son and other children.
I have no problem with shouted questions—and Trump did answer the first one, before Acosta accused him of killing the program—but I think Acosta crossed a line by asking it in that setting. It’s also no accident that the subject was DACA, an issue on which he often sounds more like an advocate than a journalist.
Still, I thought Brad Pascale, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, went too far in tweeting: “Maybe it is time for Jim Acosta to get a suspension for breaking protocol.” Such credentials are handled by the White House Correspondents Association, not the White House.
Trump’s attacks on the press invariably please his base, which doesn’t trust the news business either. But he’d have a better shot at expanding that base if he lowered the temperature a bit.