Remember when we used to obsess about every presidential tweet? When every story was about us? When Donald Trump’s war with the media was, really, the only thing that mattered?
We need to stop.
Stop reporting on every tweet with the volume of a declaration of war; stop letting the president and his staff frame every misstep and scandal as a media story; stop treating Trump’s war with the press as if it’s the most important thing happening in this country. It’s not.
The country’s social safety net is being shredded; the EPA is being dismantled; we are marching towards war with North Korea; America’s standing in the world is shrinking by the day.
And we’re worried about the president calling us names on Twitter?The question isn’t whether Trump’s tweets are newsworthy, because they are, as a smudgy window into the man’s psyche. But, in most cases, they simply don’t deserve the weight and emphasis the press gives them. Yes, Trump’s tweet of a crude video casting him as a pro wrestler pummeling CNN was outrageous. It deserved notice for what it tells us about Trump’s juvenile mind and the dark alleys of the internet that he and his staff tend to frequent. But the airtime given the video, especially on CNN, was wildly disproportionate given everything else going on in the world. (And that was before the network’s reporters seemed to threaten the video’s creator with unmasking if he dared go after the network again.)
Our response to each of Trump’s media-bashing episodes comes off as if we’re hearing them for the first time. Can you believe he said that? Could this be the thing that finally does him in? Does he have no respect for the First Amendment?
The answer, of course, is that he doesn’t respect the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech. The media’s impulse, which is understandable, is to keep the focus on his threats to the press, and not to let them become normalized. But we have reached the point at which the media response has become counterproductive and even beneficial to the president and his lackeys in the White House, who have turned the West Wing into a megaphone for Trump’s faux media war and reporters in the White House briefing room into photo-op foils. It’s amazing, and absurd, that we turn over live television to the press secretary to air the administration’s latest broadside against the press, and let senior administration officials go off the record to attack our own outlets.
What we’re missing–as I pointed out in an open letter to Trump on the eve of his inauguration–is that we aren’t obligated to cede the media agenda to this or any other administration. We control the airtime, we decide who gets quoted and how, we set the rules of engagement. The daily White House press briefings outlived their usefulness months ago. Now it’s time to reassess how we cover Trump and ourselves.