The Trump administration today took another major step in the direction of creating The Trump Press, a national press exclusively guaranteed to flatter Donald Trump. And Trump himself, in a separate speech, repeated the charge that the news organizations that don’t flatter him — he calls them fake — are “enemies of the American people.”
Do not — I repeat, do not — mistake this for the kind of shopping for a friendly press that all presidents and politicians do and have done. Nor is it just a brief, passing mention of his frustration with the press. Today’s speech was the second of two statements in the space of a week in which he used the Stalinist term “enemies of the people.” It wasn’t inadvertent; it was intended.
These repeated attacks establish in the collective mind of his followers the deep conviction that the press routinely and deliberately lies. And that is the necessary foundation upon which, by intimidation and a compromised law enforcement, the leader can quiet criticism and leave unchallenged the preferred voices of praise and adulation.
What happened today in addition to the president’s speech was the White House press secretary’s selective exclusion of The New York Times, CNN, the Los Angeles Times, Politico and BuzzFeed from the informal press briefing. The Associated Press and Time magazine left the briefing voluntarily in support of their colleagues, and the White House Correspondents Association filed a protest.
It is not, as former press secretary Ari Fleischer said on CNN, a normal exercise of White House officials to talk with reporters of their choosing. This was the only briefing of the day, clearly used to step up the pressure on organizations considered unfriendly.
In the speech Trump specified that he didn’t mean reporters when he said “enemies,” he meant only what he calls fake news. Perhaps he forgot that he’d tried to create fake news himself when he called a People magazine reporter pretending to be a publicist bragging about Donald Trump’s successes with women.
That might have been funny—or pitiful—then. It wasn’t about national security. But then and now his cavalier attitude reflects the same disrespect for truth and the nation’s press. Truth was and is only a thing to be bent to his benefit.
What’s notable is that the more he does it, the more he has to do it, like ingesting drugs.
Today he said, “I love the First Amendment; nobody loves it better than me.” I believe he has no more respect for the truth of that statement than he had for the absence of truth in his call to the People magazine reporter.