President Trump began his Sunday by declaring two news outlets, The New York Times and CNN, “truly The Enemy of the People!” His exclamation mark, not mine. We checked, and found that he’s used the “enemy” phrase on Twitter more than 30 times since taking office.
Later in the day, Bryan Cranston offered a rejoinder to Trump while accepting the Tony Award for Best Performance by an actor in a leading role in a play. Cranston, who played anchorman Howard Beale in “Network,” dedicated the award to “all the real journalists around the world.”
“The media is not the enemy of the people,” he said. “Demagoguery is the enemy of the people.”
CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta is reclaiming the poisonous phrase with a new book. It is titled, yes, “The Enemy of the People,” and it comes out on Tuesday.
On Sunday’s “Reliable Sources,” I asked Acosta – a top recipient of criticism from Trump fans – about his reason for writing it.
“I wanted to send a message to folks who really care about what we do, and the message is basically this: I did not want my children to grow up in a country where the press is called ‘the enemy of the people,’” Acosta said.
He pointed out that past administrations, led by Republicans and Democrats alike, did not “demonize” the press to the extent that Trump has.
With Trump, “I think it started off as an act – based on my reporting – the president threw out ‘fake news’ and ‘the enemy of the people’ at the beginning just to sort of taunt and troll us. And that has essentially gotten out of control,” Acosta said.
Now “some of his supporters feel it’s OK to lash out at us in ways that I think put us in danger. And I think we have to pause – hit the pause button – and think deeply about whether or not this is the kind of country we want to hand off to our kids.”
Acosta signed the book deal well before the midterm election. Then, the day after the midterms, Trump and Acosta quarreled during a press conference and the White House revoked his “hard pass,” the press pass that gave him expedited entry to the White House grounds.
CNN and Acosta sued on First and Fifth Amendment grounds and prevailed in federal court. Within days, Acosta was able to return to his post at the White House.
In “The Enemy of the People,” Acosta covers the press pass fight at the end of the book, but the narrative is really about what it was like to cover the first two years of the Trump presidency.
He writes that Trump attempts to “engineer his own reality” – creating an extraordinary challenge for the press.
“We have to stand for the truth. We’re not just here to report the news. We’re here also to defend the truth,” Acosta said on “Reliable Sources.”
In the book, Acosta writes that an unnamed “senior White House official” once said to him, “the president’s insane.”
Acosta said the official was “frustrated” by Trump’s behavior – specifically “the president’s lack of understanding about the Constitution, the constraints placed on the presidency. You know, guardrails were put in place by our Founding Fathers.”
Acosta said “it’s this kind of behavior behind-the-scenes that really frustrates his top officials I think a lot more than people understand.”
BTW: It’s been 90 days
That’s how long it has been without an on-camera White House press briefing. This is by far the longest period of time without a briefing in modern W.H. history. Monday will be day 91.
“Let’s bring them back,” Acosta said on “Reliable Sources.”
My exchange with George Conway
Before Sunday’s CNN show, I commented (on Twitter, of course) that George Conway’s tweets about POTUS continue to be astonishing. I mean, this is the husband of a top White House official saying Trump is “mentally unwell.” On Sunday morning Conway urged him to “do yourself and the country a favor. Resign and seek the psychological treatment you so obviously need.”
When I said “astonishing,” Conway responded and said, “What’s astonishing is the media’s and the nation’s utter failure to confront the fact that we have a psychologically unwell and unfit president.”
And when Erin Geiger Smith suggested that Conway should go on “Reliable Sources” and talk about his concerns, Conway said I should start by “putting on any number of the hundreds of mental health professionals who have been trying to get the public’s attention on this issue for the last three years.”
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