On July 21, 2016, just hours before he accepted the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump and I sat down for an interview. What he said on that occasion would serve as a remarkably candid foreshadowing of how Trump would handle his relationship with the media in what, on that day, seemed the unlikely event that he would actually become president.
“I don’t need you guys anymore,” Trump told me.
He pointed to his millions of followers on Twitter and Facebook, explaining that the days of television anchors and commentators acting as gatekeepers between newsmakers and the public were essentially over. Without discernible acrimony, Trump trotted out one of the early versions of what would eventually become a leitmotif of his presidency: The media was made up of largely terrible people trafficking in fake news. There was nothing personal in the observation. It was the unsheathing of a multipurpose device, one he used adroitly in tandem with the endlessly adaptable political vehicle provided by social media during the election campaign and now during his presidency.
Is there any reason to believe that what worked for Trump before he was elected and while in the White House won’t be equally effective after he leaves office?
There is a disarming innocence to the assumption that whether by impeachment, indictment or a cleansing electoral redo in 2020, President Trump will be exorcised from the White House and that thereby he and his base will largely revert to irrelevance.
It imagines that, for some reason, Trump in defeat or disgrace will become a quieter, humbler, more restrained presence on Twitter and Facebook than heretofore. It assumes further that CNN and Fox News and MSNBC, perhaps chastened by the consequences of their addictive coverage of Trump the Candidate and Trump the President, will resist the urge to pay similar attention to Trump the Exile.
Let the record show that Trump has launched the careers of numerous media stars and that expressions of indignant outrage on the left and breathless admiration on the right have resulted in large, entirely nonpartisan profits for the industry of journalism. Why anyone should assume that Trump and those who cherish or loathe him in the news business will easily surrender such a hugely symbiotic relationship is hard to understand.
It is all but inevitable that whoever succeeds Trump in the White House will be perceived by 30 to 40 percent of the voting public as illegitimate — and that the former president will enthusiastically encourage them in this perception. Whatever his failings, Trump is a brilliant self-promoter and provocateur. He showed no embarrassment, either as candidate or president, about using his high visibility to benefit his business interests. Untethered from any political responsibility whatsoever, he can be expected to capitalize fully on his new status as political martyr and leader of a new “resistance” that will make today’s look supine.
The dirty little secret about the United States’ relationship with Trump is that we have become addicted to him. His ups, his downs, his laughs, his frowns are (as the lovely song from “My Fair Lady” once put it in another context altogether) “second nature to [us] now, like breathing out and breathing in.”
When he fails to tweet for even a few hours, Trumpologists search for meaning in the silence. Hours are devoted on cable television, each and every day, to examining the entrails of his most recent utterances. Has there been a day in the past two years without a Trump-related story on the front page of every major U.S. newspaper? How does the president lie to us? Let us count the ways. And we do, endlessly, meticulously.
Do you believe for a moment that Americans are ready to give that up merely because, for one reason or another, Trump has been obliged to reoccupy Trump Tower full-time?
A President Pence would not satisfy that hunger. Nor, for now at least, is it easy to discern within the growing ranks of potential Democratic candidates a man or woman with a matching aura of glitz, a similar degree of shamelessness, a comparable pairing of so much to be humble about with a total lack of humility.
A new president may provide a sense of relief and normalcy. But he or she will not satisfy our craving for outrage. Trump’s detractors are outraged by him. His supporters are outraged with him. He is a national Rorschach test. Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore him. One way or another, Trump will be renewed for another season.
Kelly, whom Trump appointed to the federal bench last year, handed down his ruling two days after the network and government lawyers argued over whether the president had the power to exclude a reporter from the White House.
In his decision, Kelly ruled that Acosta’s First Amendment rights overruled the White House’s right to have orderly news conferences. Kelly said he agreed with the government’s argument that there was no First Amendment right to come onto the White House grounds. But, he said, once the White House opened up the grounds to reporters, the First Amendment applied.
.. He also agreed with CNN’s argument that the White House did not provide due process. He said the White House’s decision-making was “so shrouded in mystery that the government could not tell me . . . who made the decision.” The White House’s later written arguments for banning Acosta were belated and weren’t sufficient to satisfy due process, Kelly said.
.. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced Acosta’s “indefinite” suspension last week after the confrontation at the news conference. Trump and Sanders have had several run-ins with Acosta stretching back to before Trump became president.
.. CNN has argued that the ban on Acosta violated his First Amendment rights because it amounts to “viewpoint discrimination” — that is, the president is punishing him for statements and coverage he didn’t like. The network has also said the action violates Acosta’s Fifth Amendment right to due process because his exclusion follows no written guidelines or rules and has no appeal or review procedures.
.. Until the White House’s action last week, no reporter credentialed to cover the president had ever had a press pass revoked.
.. A government lawyer, James Burnham, argued in a hearing before Kelly on Wednesday that the president was within his rights to ban any reporter from the White House at any time, just as he excludes reporters from interviews in the Oval Office. He said Acosta could report on the president “just as effectively” by watching the president on TV or by calling sources within the White House. He also said CNN wouldn’t be injured by Acosta’s exclusion since CNN has dozens of other journalists credentialed for the White House.
.. Burnham also explained that Trump’s rationale for Acosta’s ban was his “rudeness” at last week’s news conference, in effect arguing that Acosta’s conduct, not his right to free speech, was the relevant issue.
The assertions drew a rebuttal from CNN’s lawyer, Boutrous, who described the ban on the reporter as arbitrary, capricious and unprecedented. He said White House reporters need access to the premises to meet with sources and to report on untelevised “gaggles,” impromptu discussions with press aides and other officials, so that banning a reporter from the grounds harms his or her ability to do their job.
.. Trump has suggested other reporters could face a similar fate if they displease him in some unspecified way.
.. During the presidential campaign in 2015 and 2016, Trump banned more than a dozen news organizations from his rallies and public events, including The Washington Post. But he said he wouldn’t do something similar as president. Last week, he went back on that statement.
.. Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign has used the CNN lawsuit to drum up contributions, portraying the suit as evidence of “liberal bias” — an assertion Boutrous brought up on Wednesday to demonstrate that Trump had political reasons for banning Acosta.
It was a story that seemed to reinforce stereotypes of President Donald Trump: On a visit to Japan, he was handed a box of food for a ritual feeding of carp, and after doling out a few spoons’ worth, he got impatient and dumped the rest of the box all at once.
Initial reports of the food dump — like this early video from CNN — suggested that Trump acted on his own. This pushed the late-night Twitterverse and blogosphere into a tizzy. The website Jezebel posted a story headlined, “Big Stupid Baby Dumps Load Of Fish Food On Japanese Koi Pond.”
CNN has a long history of allowing political plants to flourish in its public forums.
At the cable station’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas in 2007, moderator Wolf Blitzer introduced several citizen questioners as “ordinary people, undecided voters.” But they later turned out to include a former Arkansas Democratic director of political affairs, the president of the Islamic Society of Nevada, and a far left anti-war activist who’d been quoted in newspapers lambasting Harry Reid for his failure to pull out of Iraq.
.. At a CNN/YouTube GOP debate two weeks later, the everyday, “undecided voters” whose questions were chosen included:
- A member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual Americans For Hillary Clinton Steering Committee.
- A young woman named “Journey” who questioned the candidates on abortion and whom CNN failed to properly identify as an outspoken John Edwards supporter.
- A supposed “Log Cabin Republican” who had declared his support for Obama on an Obama ‘08 campaign blog.
- A supposedly unaffiliated “concerned mother” who was actually a staffer and prominent Pittsburgh union activist for the United Steelworkers — which had endorsed Edwards for president.
- A supposed “undecided” voter who urged Ron Paul to run as an independent, but who had already publicly declared his support for former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s Democratic presidential bid.
- A staffer for Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; a former intern for Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., and a former intern for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
.. During the push for Obamacare, Democrat plants spread like kudzu across town hall propaganda events. At White House “citizen town halls” in 2009, Team Obama hand-picked not-so-random “random” questioners who included:
- An operative for the Washington, D.C.-based Health Care for America Now, the K Street Astroturf outfit with a $40 million budget to lobby for government-run health care that directed its activists to “drown out” opponents at town hall meetings.
- An “unemployed” cancer patient who was actually working for the DNC’s Organizing for America and the Virginia Organizing Project, which coordinated lobbying trips and health care forums with HCAN.
- A Democrat National Committee member and community blogger at Organizing for America.
- The 11-year-old daughter of a coordinator of Massachusetts Women for Obama who had donated thousands of dollars to the campaign, as had her law firm employer.
.. Using young people as horticultural conduits to shape narratives wasn’t an Obama invention, of course. Last week, Hillary Clinton’s town hall events featured two children reading scripted questions on gender pay equity and guns. The campaign balked at accusations that they would exploit kids and manufacture questions.
.. But this is the campaign of the former secretary of state whose staff bragged in emails released last fall that it had “planted” questions with CBS News’s “60 Minutes” in 2011.