I can definitively report that I was not expecting to receive a personal notification from Donald Trump on Wednesday night.
In fact, I had just muted @realDonaldTrump a few days prior. I used to receive push alerts on my phone every time the president fired off another angry rant to his millions of real followers (and nearly the equivalent number of bots and fake accounts). A short vacation from the madness was well overdue, and I figured that, just like everyone else, somehow, some way I would manage to remain aware of Trump's latest tweets every day of my life - since, after all, this is our society's collective new reality.
Turns out, I was right. But on this Wednesday - Jan. 17, to be specific - my phone was on fire by about 10 p.m., the approximate moment when the Republican Party's website stopped crashing long enough to actually debut the president's long-awaited "Fake News Awards." Let's be honest, when your phone is buzzing relentlessly late on a weeknight, it's generally a good indicator that proverbial sh*t is hitting the fan. But when you're a journalist, it's 2018, and those notifications are arriving predominantly from Twitter - well, there's always the minuscule chance you were just attacked by the President of the United States.
"What did you do?" A concerned relative wrote. "You won!" a former editor tweeted. Messages of support were scattered throughout my inbox. My heart nearly skipped a beat. "Holy sh*t," I thought. "Did I just win the president's fake news awards?"
And the FAKE NEWS winners are...https://t.co/59G6x2f7fD
- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2018
I hate to admit this, but like many others in my industry, there was a sick part of me that had been looking forward to Trump's Fake News Awards ever since he announced his social media brainchild in early January. The president was planning an old-fashioned, WWE-style smackdown of his least favorite media outlets and, if I was lucky enough, I might just be one of those reporters included in the phenomenon. Surely, the president would create an awards program centered around his favorite term that was so outlandish and extravagant, it would be an unmissable event. Had Stephen Miller kept a naughty list of his least favorite reporters throughout the year and was planning on using the president's platform to exact his revenge? Was Trump going to place a caricature of Maggie Haberman's face on top of gold-plated trophies for award recipients? Would Jake Tapper be hosting the red carpet?
As the president and his party bungled the rollout for the awards, I quickly realized the event would be much less of a spectacle than I had hoped for.
"The interest in, and importance of, these awards is far greater than anyone could have anticipated!" Trump boasted in his typical used-car-salesman-style pitch, hyping the awards while simultaneously acknowledging he would miss his own deadline. But then again, as we all quickly learned once the list of recipients was actually released, the whole thing appeared to have been a rushed and disorganized nothingburger - clearly written 10 minutes before it was released.
And then there's the fact that the GOP website, graciously hosting the president's Fake News Awards (and ostensibly attempting to rescue the president from the inevitable ethics investigation that would ensue as a result of publishing this list on a government website) was utterly unprepared for the onslaught of Americans who had been driven to the site as a result of a tweet from Trump, as countless users posted screenshots of their failed attempts to access the page.
The recipients of the Fake News Awards were mostly stories from national news outlets, stories with mistakes that were corrected the same day they were released online. One was a Washington Post report saying Trump's crowd size in Florida was less than YUGE. Another was an op-ed - which, for the record, isn't considered news in the first place - but then, there it was, my pièce de résistance. A post I wrote on an awkward handshake Trump shared with the Polish President Andrzej Duda's wife, Agata Kornhauser-Duda, was featured as No. 8 on the list.
By way of background, here's what the story was about: initial videos shared online from Trump's encounter with the Polish president showed him reaching out his hand to greet Kornhauser-Duda as she swept past him to say hello to Melania Trump. The president had been entrenched in one of the least important - but arguably most hilarious - scandals from his first year in office: not having any idea how to physically conduct himself around other world leaders during political events. He refused to shake German Chancellor Angela Merkel's hand prior to his trip to Poland and had several controversial handshakes with French President Emmanuel Macron, Japanese President Shinzo Abe, Vice President Mike Pence, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. As psychologists were writing think pieces about Trump's handshakes, the world was watching in real time to see whether he'd have another awkward encounter in Poland.
My story on the botched handshake was published almost instantly after the exchange occurred. It was also updated that same day, once I received extended footage from the event that showed Trump eventually receiving a handshake from Kornhauser-Duda. Other outlets corrected their own reports the same day as well. To this day, the clip of Kornhauser-Duda seemingly passing over Trump as he looks her up and down remains just as hilarious as when it happened in July and can still be interpreted as a slight toward the president - even if the two did, eventually, shake hands.
I no longer find any of this funny, though. Instead, I'm deeply concerned about the state of the union, about our president's vision for the future of this country. Harvard lecturer Yascha Mounk put it best, saying, "The Fake News Awards are the Trump administration in a nutshell: A serious attack on America's founding principles - in this case, the freedom of the press - carried out in such a ludicrously ham-fisted manner that it's deceptively difficult to take it seriously."
In the end, the president's awards are meaningless. The fact that Trump and his staff are forcing a journalist to defend one of the least-consequential posts they've ever published in their entire blog, story, feature, and longform-writing career about a handshake that didn't seem to have happened, and then happened over six months ago - that reflects something much more concerning than humorous. The president is deeply self-conscious; he's more concerned about the American people thinking he's a billionaire with big hands, firm handshakes, and huge crowds than the American people themselves. The time he's spent focusing on his troubling obsession with reporters like me in recent weeks could have been used for so much more: fixing DACA, saving CHIP, preventing a government shutdown, aiding hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, or even building his beloved wall.
That said, perhaps this whole thing was a presidential deflection: as the world has been focused on the "fake news media," the president has unleashed over 2,000 false claims and counting.