I promise I’m going to put on a serious expression and write a serious piece about Donald Trump’s latest attempt to intimidate the press, based on a meeting on Monday with leading figures in network news. But first:
HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA! Oh, what I would have given to see the faces of the media courtiers when the president-elect started bawling them out. If, as reported, the assembled media insiders included NBC’s Chuck Todd, CNN’s Wolf (the Drone That Walks) Blitzer, ABC daytime personality George Stephanopoulos, and network presidents such as CNN’s Jeff Zucker and Fox News’s Bill Shine and Jack Abernethy — if all of these and more were, as reported, berated and belittled by the incoming president, it must have been a marvel to behold. When was the last time, I wonder, any of these power players were called to task for anything? These are folks so used to — as we said in ye olden news times — “setting the agenda” that to have it suggested they are not people who deserve 24/7 big-time respect … well, it must have been a staggering blow. Especially since the vast majority of them had spent the past election taking Trump’s most foolish or destructive utterances with complete seriousness on-camera, and complete cynicism off-camera, knowing that the more extreme the Trump statement, the better their ratings. Ha-ha-ha-ha!
Now then. There is an undeniable level on which what Trump did was legitimately troubling. If Trump was trying to bully the media, it’s scary. Already, before he takes office, Trump is exploring ways to get his message across without having it filter through established media, unless you count YouTube and Facebook as serious media organizations. I’m thinking, of course, of Monday’s address to the nation in which Trump outlined — and by “outlined” I mean “crayoned a few vague shapes” — some of the things he plans to do during his first 100 days in office. In disseminating his ideas this way, he avoids one tradition (the press conference, at which he can be asked questions) while throwing another tradition (a news report that immediately places his remarks in historical context as soon as it is broadcast) into delayed, catch-up mode.
After all these months, most of the establishment media persists in the long-ago-disproven idea that Trump understands how the serious news-gathering works. Talk shows, he gets. Celebrity news shows, he gets. (Just ask Billy Bush, wherever he is.) Reality TV, he really gets. But the notion of news organizations — particularly print outlets such as the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times, with long histories and traditions of reporting methods and journalistic ethics — have him flummoxed whenever they don’t have him enraged.
But the idea that, if true as reported, Trump reserved some especially choice invective for CNN’s Zucker — who has actually admitted a teeny smidge of guilt for running many of Trump’s stump speeches at full length during the campaign; who has employed one of Trump’s most aggressive bullies, Corey Lewandowski, as one of his network’s contributors — then it’s safe to assume that Trump has no sense of what more serious journalists profess to seek: you know, “objectivity” and “balance.”
Trump’s dressing-down of the media elite who had come to speak power-to-power with the president-elect on a high floor of Trump Tower proves that not even sucking up to Trump, as CNN did in its coverage and its hiring of Lewandowski, is going to spare any news outlet from a President Trump’s censure. After Monday’s meeting, I hope at least a few of the millionaire media types walking out of Trump Tower were shaking their heads and saying to themselves, “We shoulda been tougher on this guy — playing nice got us nowhere.”