Thursday, January 18, 2018

Another president names his media enemies -- Jan. 18, 2018 column


President Donald Trump built up expectations for his “Fake News Awards” for weeks, but when he finally named names, it was underwhelming.

On Jan. 2 he promised to list “THE MOST DISHONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA” on Jan. 8, then postponed the big reveal nine days.

“The interest in, and importance of, these awards is far greater than anyone could have anticipated!” he tweeted.

Oh, the excitement. Late-night comedians competed to be ranked the worst in Trump’s eyes. Stephen Colbert bought a billboard in Times Square. Two senators excoriated Trump for his assaults on journalism and free speech. 

But then Trump, or someone in the White House, seemed to recognize his latest attempt at media shaming had gotten away from him. His awards were cause for fun, not fear.

His tweet Wednesday night – a straight-forward, “And the FAKE NEWS winners are…” -- linked to a Republican website. The link broke.   

The whole episode was more fizzle than firecracker.  

Trump’s Top 10 list was comprised of old news stories he had called out in tweets over the last year, plus the Russian investigation. If the list proved anything, it was that Trump holds grudges. But we already knew that.

Trump’s list shows his narrow obsession with reporters and news outlets that present news stories he doesn’t like. Trump’s Top 10 included the usual mainstream media suspects – reporters and columnists for The New York Times (two), CNN (four), ABC, Time, The Washington Post and Newsweek. Poor CBS, NBC and MSNBC didn’t rate a mention.

Trump may inadvertently be creating a new category of media hero. At the least it’s good business to be on the receiving end of Trump condemnation.

Michael Wolff was a peripheral purveyor of gossipy tidbits in Manhattan until he wrote “Fire and Fury” a behind-the-scenes look at the dysfunctional president and his first year in the White House. After Trump threatened to go to court to stop publication, booksellers couldn’t keep it on the shelves.

“Where do I send the box of chocolates,” Wolff asked as sales soared and publisher Henry Holt rushed to print more copies.

Look for more buzz and sales of two new books that mine the evils of the Trump effect:  “Trumpocracy” by former White House speechwriter David Frum and “It’s Even Worse Than You Think” by longtime Trump-watcher David Cay Johnston.

Film director Steven Spielberg, sensing the time was right for a movie about truth and the press, rushed to shoot and finish “The Post,” in just nine months.

Starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, the movie tells the story of The Washington Post’s publication in 1971 of the top-secret Pentagon Papers after a court stopped The New York Times from continuing its publication of them. 

“The Post” also serves as a tribute to a woman who found her resolve. Publisher Katharine Graham was trying to keep the Post afloat by taking public the family-owned paper. Her decision to publish the Pentagon Papers helped turn the Post into a national newspaper.

The movie reverberates with the manic, anti-press sentiments of a shadowy Richard Nixon.

So now Trump, who has called the news media “the enemy of the people,” has a sort-of enemies list of his own, a la Nixon.

Nixon’s enemies list, compiled starting in 1971, eventually contained hundreds of names and was a Who’s Who of journalism, academia, government, business, labor and the entertainment industry (Carol Channing, Steve McQueen and Joe Namath, among others).

Being on Nixon’s enemies list was a badge of honor, an essential line years later in someone’s obituary.

These days, as people for better or worse choose their national news reports according to their political views, subscriptions to the liberal New York Times and Washington Post and the conservative Wall Street Journal have soared.

One thing hasn’t changed. News is still the first rough draft of history, with emphasis on rough. When there are mistakes, as there always have been, reputable news organizations still correct their errors -- something Trump rarely, if ever, does.  

Trump’s Fake News awards were of zero consequence. His stringent attacks on the news media, though, may unintentionally give journalism a boost – like another movie, “All the President’s Men” about the Watergate scandal -- and a new generation of journalists reason to get up in the morning.

©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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