By now, it’s somewhat old hat. Donald Trump bashes the media as “fake news.” He says that reporters are the worst and most dishonest people he knows. And he calls the media “the enemy of the American people.”
But just because Trump says it all the time doesn’t mean we should take for granted what he’s doing: He is systematically trying to dismantle the idea of a free and independent press. And unfortunately, it’s working.
Witness the last 48 hours.
At a Trump rally in Tampa, Florida, Trump supporters chanted “CNN Sucks” behind CNN’s Jim Acosta. Which isn’t great. But then Trump himself grabbed the video/audio and sent it out through his Instagram account.
Then, on Thursday morning, Ivanka Trump broke with her father’s view of the media: “I do not feel that the media is the enemy of the people,” she told Axios’ Mike Allen.
At the White House daily briefing on Thursday, press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked whether the President would disavow his past attack on the media as the enemy, given his daughter’s comment. Nope! “The media continues to ratchet up the verbal assault against the President and everyone in this administration,” Sanders said. “And certainly, we have a role to play, but the media has a role to play for the discourse in this country, as well.”
Trump himself, never one to walk away from a fight without throwing a punch, took to Twitter to turn his daughter’s conciliatory words into an attack. “They asked my daughter Ivanka whether or not the media is the enemy of the people,” he tweeted. “She correctly said no. It is the FAKE NEWS, which is a large percentage of the media, that is the enemy of the people!”
Which leaves us where, exactly? Any attempt to defend the media as just people doing their jobs the best they can is met with derision from Trump backers. That’s just Trump being Trump! You media guys can give it out but you can’t take it!
That misses the point. This isn’t about the media or even Trump. It’s about the idea that facts exist. That holding people in power to account – regardless of their party affiliation – is a necessary role in a healthy democracy. That attacking people as dishonest, as other, as the enemy has real and lasting consequences.
The Point: I’m not sure even Trump knows the damage he does by asserting that the media is the enemy of the people. I am sure he doesn’t care – which is almost worse.