Bullied — How Trump beat the press for four years

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"At least they didn't spit on me," lamented reporter Brian Karem, following a bizarre outburst at the White House during the summer of 2019. In front of a crowd of one hundred people, a former Trump aide shouted that Karem was a "punk.” As cell phones captured the outdoors encounter, another Trump loyalist warned that the aide could kick Karem's "punk ass."

The verbal beat down represented another planned degradation of the press, like when White House press briefings were canceled for an entire year. What was the collective response from news organizations after an accredited White House reporter was harassed in public as a "punk ass" in the Rose Garden? Predictably, there was no response or pushback. Major news outlets, some of them with global reach and worth billions of dollars, opted not to stand up to the Pennsylvania Ave. bully.

Anyone who thought that when Trump arrived in Washington, D.C. four years ago that we would witness some grand battle unfold between a fiercely anti-media crusader squaring off against the powerful D.C. press with a newly stiffened spine, they were sorely mistaken. Instead of an epic fight, they witnessed capitulation on a grand scale. The press kept bringing knives to Trump's gunfights—over and over, to the point where an obvious calculation had been made by the access-hunger Beltway press to not push too hard.

Today, before the media turn the page on the Trump presidency, it’s imperative we understand what happened, and how for years D.C. journalists spent their days collecting untruthful Trump statements and tweets and passed them along as news, posting endless "Trump says" headlines that simply amplified his bodacious lies. Faced with the most radical player in American political history, the Beltway press responded with timidity and deference, including hollow Both Sides journalism.

"So many ‘Savvy Washington Insiders’ and ‘fair journalists’ are actually in on the con," Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii lamented in a 2019 tweet. "They know one side is absolutely bonkers but they are deeply, personally attached to the fake objectivity that allows them to be blind to cruelty and racism manifested as public policy."

Most newsrooms, led by the New York Times, wouldn't even call Trump a "liar" — when he accused Democrats of supporting the killing of newborn babies (!), the Times reported Trump had merely revived a "standard, and inaccurate, refrain."

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As Trump's brazen, anti-democratic behavior became more pronounced, and as he appeared to operate without the slightest concern of the press holding him accountable, it seemed the American news media didn't understand, or wouldn't acknowledge, what was happening month after month, year after year, and the dangers that our democracy faced — until it was too late, and the deadly Trump mob let loose on January 6.

The grim reality is that access journalism, or the dream of it under Trump, eroded American democracy. Nervous about having their access cut off -- about not being called on at briefings, being shut out of press gaggles, having no chance at landing a presidential interview, or land lucrative book deals-- too many journalists and news organizations sat on their hands, hoping for the best.

Instead, Trump with his final spastic outbursts, brought the country to its knees in a way not seen since the violent turmoil of the 1960s, and the American Civil War.

It's also impossible to overlook how the press helped create the marauding Trump monster. Anxious in 2016 for a candidate who would vilify Clinton, whom the Beltway press held in contempt, the media showered Trump with endless attention and treated him like a celebrity, while Clinton got nailed to the cross over an A-rated global charity.

Last week, the Times reported that Trump's second impeachment, coming in the wake of his murderous mob’s attack on the U.S. Capitol, "felt like the preordained coda of a presidency that repeatedly pressed all limits and frayed the bonds of the body politic." That Times take made it sound like the Beltway press knew all along the Trump presidency would end in ruin and that democracy would be under vicious attack.

Don't believe the media’s revisionist history. It was Democrats and liberals who for years loudly warned of the looming Trump catastrophe, while so many Beltway journalists told everyone to calm down. Insisting there was no reason to call a pathological liar like Trump a "liar," the press worked overtime to normalize Trump's autocratic reign.

The sad part is, all of this was inevitable because this is how authoritarians treat the press. They do everything in their power to destroy the power of the news media by relentlessly attacking its worth and undercutting journalists with assaults and insults. Their goal is to create a political environment where every fact is questioned and all assertions can be written off as "fake news."

"This is a massive ongoing catastrophe in journalism, a slow-motion car crash of failed ethics and corrupt news judgment," former Wall Street Journal reporter Heidi Moore tweeted, after watching journalists obsess over the "optics" — not the substance — of Robert Mueller's Congressional testimony in the summer of 2019. "It's been going on for four years, getting progressively worse, and it's hurting both media and the country. Political coverage in the U.S. in a crisis. It is failing."

The Trump years were a sad chapter, indeed.


GOOD STUFF:

I've written a lot about the New York Times' years-long obsession with documenting every passing thought from Trump Voters, even in the wake of Trump's lopsided election defeat. Where are the Biden Vote stories, I and and others have wondered?

Well, on Wednesday, the Times actually published one, so let's all take credit. The article didn't run on the front page, the way so many Trump Voters stories have. But the Times did interview dozens of Democrats.

From the Times' "Prosecute Trump? Biden Is Wary,  but His Voters Are Eager":

Interviews with two dozen Biden voters across the country found near unanimity that it was important for the Senate, the Justice Department and state prosecutors to aggressively pursue Mr. Trump, his family members and top aides — holding them accountable well beyond the impeachment charge against the president for inciting the Capitol riot on Jan. 6. The consensus cut across differences of ideology, income, race and sex.

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🎧 FUN STUFF —  BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK:

Ant Clemons & Justin Timberlake, “Better Days”

The right song at the right time — it’s so good.

'Cause we're on our way to better
Better's ahead, better's ahead
It get's worse 'fore it gets better
But better's ahead, better's ahead