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GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN -- “I just listen to Donald Trump.”
Erika, a 31-year-old from Green Bay, told me this outside the arena where the president was scheduled to speak-her distrust and disinterest in the press breathtaking.
“The news media stinks,” she spat, insisting she gets all of her information from the president. “He sees it. He walks it. He knows. Trump goes there-he goes to the Texas border and speaks to the people who are working down there. And they’re telling him what’s going on, what’s going wrong, what needs to be fixed. That’s a true president. I wouldn’t listen to nobody else but him.”
For the third year running, the president skipped the White House Correspondents Dinner, opting to spend Saturday evening feeding red meat to his base inside the Resch Center, a 10,000-seat arena in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in the shadow of hallowed Lambeau Field. Trump's sway over many of his most ardent supporters has spawned some of the most vile behavior this country has seen in decades-from encouraging hatred towards immigrants and Muslims to flouting the rule of law-but the timing of this rally also prompts the question of how his constant assault on the press has cascaded down to those making the pilgrimage on Saturday night.
Among the thousands who came to hear Trump speak there was nary a moderate opinion about the Fourth Estate to be found. Sentiments about the press seemed to fall mostly in the narrow range between “democracy’s necessary evil” (at best) and “enemy of the people” (at worst). But almost everyone was happy, even eager to share their views on the press. It appears Trump has spawned a new generation of media critic/cynic. Some uttered truly astounding things: “I don’t subscribe to newspapers because I don’t know who these writers are.” In answer to a question about who in the media is trustworthy: “I don’t think [Sean] Hannity has been shown to be dishonest.” Also, this lament: “Fox News is moving left.”
Around 7 p.m. local time, Trump sauntered onto the stage to a mighty ovation from an audience awash in red hats and Trump-Pence 2020 signs. He offered condolences to the victims of the synagogue shooting that day in Southern California, talked about trade with China, and the strength of the U.S. economy. But on this night, he seemed preoccupied with the First Amendment-particularly his own abiding notion that the very correspondents whose dinner party invitation he had rebuffed are partisans abusing their press freedoms to falsely and unfairly attack him and his administration.
“On the way over, they were telling me about bad weather, by the way: ‘We may have to cancel tonight.’ I said, ‘Are you crazy?’” Boos and jeers rose up from the gallery. “They thought you were going to have a big snow storm. A big, big snow storm.” (Other areas of Wisconsin did, in fact, see snowfall.) “The people that get it wrong the most are the weather forecasters and the political analysts,” said Trump, pointing toward the back of the arena, in the direction of the press area. The throng took aim with its jeers.
Later, Trump touted the country’s low rates of unemployment among people of color. Then, feigning nervousness, he said: “If I make any misstatement, if I’m off by just a little tiny bit, those people back there will be-headlines!” Boos erupted. “Fake news!” Trump responded. “They’re fake! They are fake. They are fakers.” That provoked a resounding chant of “CNN sucks!” Trump smirked. “You know what sucks?” he asked. “Their ratings!” Big laughs.
Trump’s verbal attacks on the media have been one of the most enduring themes of his presidency. And it’s easy to see why: The cry of “Fake news!” is an all-purpose way to swat aside any story that may put him or his administration in an unfavorable light. The refrain stands to be a cornerstone of Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. It is also one of the crucial ties that bind his most fervent supporters.
“I don’t follow any mainstream media. Never turn on CNN or ABC or NBC. Don’t subscribe to newspapers,” said Jason Hak, 44, a union forklift operator from Bloomington, Minnesota. “Can’t do it. I won’t support any of the media outlets. I won’t even look. If I see a video from CNN on social media, I won’t click on it. If I was to click on a mainstream media link, it would only be from Fox News. Even then, I’m pretty leery of it.”
His go-to news source is a Facebook page called American Warrior Revolution that purports to “provide quality information on world and national news, survival training, [pro-Second Amendment] news, firearms safety, first aid, disaster preparedness, gear reviews and instructional videos.” The page boasts more than 500,000 likes. “It’s news of the people, by the people-citizen journalists,” Hak said. I’d trust that page over the New York Times any day, all day, 100 percent.”
“The media is bad. They spouted this thing-Russia, Russia, Russia-for two years straight,” said Randal Thom, a 59-year-old from Minnesota, who loves Trump so much that the tagline to his deck-repair company is “Making Your Home and Decks Great Again.”
“The media is no longer Walter Cronkite,” he continued. “When he spoke, you knew he was speaking the truth. He would never put his personal spin on it. He gave you the news. Nowadays, you watch the news, it’s all twisted up because they have such anger and hate for our president.”
Thom, who said the Green Bay rally was his 49th Trump event, leads a group of devoted rally attendees called Trump’s Front Row Joes. One member is retiree Libby Earle, who has traveled from her home in New Haven, Connecticut, to 45 Trump events. Canadian by birth, she was so inspired by Trump that she hurried to complete the U.S. citizenship process a month ago so that she will be able to cast her vote for him next November. “Some try to say that Fox News is a government channel and only influenced by Trump and is propaganda,” Earle said. “That’s bullshit! Fox is the only network that can talk about Trump at all without putting him down!”
“I don’t think the media is into representing what’s really going on. They’re into what sells. And if you are willing to take a shot at Trump, you’re going to get eyeballs,” said Mike Kraemer, 49, from Manhattan, Kansas.
What gets short shrift, Kraemer and others said, is the nitty-gritty of the president’s actions, the things that keep them staunchly in his corner: economic growth, trade deals, border security, deregulation of various industries, etc.
Madeline Miner, a 17-year-old from Green Bay, who took part in a small anti-Trump rally in a free-speech zone on the outskirts of the main rally area, said it’s difficult to stomach a Trumpie lecturing anyone about the media. “Trump supporters are just in an entirely different world,” she said. “They listen to what they want to hear and they write everything else off as fake.” That includes refusing to acknowledge as legitimate the innumerable necessary-and necessarily hard-hitting-public-interest stories regarding Russian election interference, the Stormy Daniels affair, the Trump family’s murky finances, the fraudulent Trump University, and so on.
Out on vendor’s row, thoughts about the press and politics were a bit more fluid. MAGA apparel saleswoman Audrina Falcone, a 27-year-old from Los Angeles, admitted, when customers were out of earshot, that her employer donates 20 percent of each sale to the campaign of Bernie Sanders, the candidate she voted for in the 2016 Democratic primary. Another vendor selling Trump merch, an African-American man named Jay, said for him it’s not about politics-it’s about money. “I’m a capitalist, man! A businessman. If I worked at a hotel, would I ask everyone who came through the door who they voted for? No. I’d ask, ‘Cash or credit?’ If you sell cars, you don’t ask, ‘Are you a Republican or a Democrat?’ You say, ‘Do you want a two-door or a four-door?’ Otherwise you go broke.”
A balmy 40 degrees in Green Bay, Wisconsin
President Trump’s rally isn’t until 7pm here but folks are lined up outside the Resch Center (in the shadow of Lambeau Field) pic.twitter.com/ZorvL724kl
- Johnny Verhovek (@JTHVerhovek) April 27, 2019
“I don’t know if there’s a place to get the unvarnished truth. I can wake up and watch Fox News and tell how they’re spinning a story one way, and I can turn to CNN and see they’re spinning it the other way,” said Shane Henderson, a metal artist from Manitowoc, Wisconsin. He was peddling his creations-everything from a polished stainless steel Trump head to a sheet metal Jesus in a MAGA hat. “The political drama of the Trump presidency is better than any soap opera-and I profit off of it. Like, when he was fighting with Nancy Pelosi, I created a piece featuring Trump pissing on Pelosi’s head and sold 50 of them.”
As Trump neared the end of his 90-minute speech, he started to come off as a tired legacy music act, dutifully pleasing the crowd with his greatest hits. “Build the wall” is his “Hotel California,” “drain the swamp” his “Stairway to Heaven,” “fake news” his “Free Bird.”
Once he had run through the entire set list, he went into full stump-speech mode to bring it in for a landing: “Every day between now and November 2020 . . . we are going to keep on winning, winning, winning. We are going to win. Remember, I used to tell you about winning? We are winning.”
Long after Trump had left the stage and most all his supporters had exited the building, the reporters who remained in the media pen were seated in front of laptops as they readied their final drafts. No one seemed to notice, then, as a goateed man in a red MAGA hat leaned against the fence, cupped his mouth, and yelled, “Liberal media sucks!”
His words, full of fury, floated high into the now-empty arena, echoed weakly, and quickly died out. The journalists kept on typing. The man turned on his heels and stalked away.
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