This week, after a quick stopover in Singapore, Donald Trump was keen to return to his favourite topic (beside his own greatness): his feud with the American news media. Political editor, Dr Martin Hirst, argues that journalists need to continue pushing back, or risk being swamped by Trump’s aggression.
[First published on Independent Australia]
On his way back from the “tremendous” tete-a-tete with mass murderer Kim Jong-un, Trump did a one-on-one with Fox News. He hasn’t done a sit down interview with any other media outlet for over a year.
Despite the very controlled access, many U.S. (and Australian) news outlets were initially quite excited by the Trump-Kim PDA in Singapore. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for the lipstick to wear off and the true piggishness of Trump to re-emerge.
Within 24 hours of touching down in the ever-deepening Washington swamp, Trump was up to his old trick of lambasting serious and critical journalism as “fake news”. Luckily, we have former journalist and current conscience-pricker Dan Gillmor to remind the shell-shocked American news media of their true purpose.
In fact, I was so drawn to this Trump tweet, I actually also retweeted it myself, with the appropriate commentary.
Yes, we’re all used to the Tangerine Fascist’s unhinged tweeting but, as I argued in July last year, we need to take Trump’s tweets seriously.
Here’s what I wrote at the time:
Supporters of the “ignore the tweeting” camp say that Trump is deliberately pumping out the outrage and confected offence in order to keep the media occupied and away from the more serious and nefarious plans he has to turn the United States of America into the Principality of Trumpistan.
On the other hand, there’s an argument that Trump’s tweets represent the “thoughts” of the United States President and should be taken seriously. His own staff are now also running with this line, arguing that President Trump is taking his message straight to the American people and needs to do this because the news media distorts his words and does not report the great things he’s doing to “Make America Great Again”.
As Trump himself wrote, nearly a year ago, his tweeting is “modern day presidential”.
Just take a look again at the last sentence in this week’s “fake news” broadside:
‘Our Country’s biggest enemy is the Fake News so easily promulgated by fools!’
Does this remind you of anything?
It is a not-so-subtle reference to a rallying call of his neo-Nazi supporters, who have adopted Trump as their Great White Hope.
This is very inflammatory language from the President, but it is also very deliberate. Trump is on record as saying he uses Twitter to make an end-run around a hostile media and to speak directly to his base in language that they will easily understand.
This is also clearly the reasoning behind his almost-daily tweeting about the Russia investigation being a “witch hunt”.
Nobody outside of his inner circle and his welded-on supporters actually believe any of this. Unfortunately, we can’t afford to just ignore Trumpers — they are heavily-armed, overwhelming angry white, and disenfranchised, and still capable of electing more Trump-like politicians to Congress and the Senate.
Trump’s base is increasingly limited to the hardcore – and quite ignorant – racist and conservative rump of the Republican Party, and a few Republican members of Congress, who are rightfully scared of decimation in the upcoming “mid-term” elections.
Trump needs the woke Nazis and the small but tight coterie of ordinary Americans who think that Mexicans are stealing their jobs, and that the European Union is most likely a George Soros-funded conspiracy to weaken America before it can become “great again”.
The Nazis are just cynical thugs with vague hopes that Trump would deliver them a racially pure homeland.
Trump has a history of appeasing them. Remember his disgusting support for the white supremacist cause following the Charlottesville murder of civil rights activist Heather Heyer by a neo-Nazi fringe-dweller, who weaponised his American-made car in August last year.
Fake News is the new “Lügenpresse”
Trump supporters began calling the critical mainstream news media “lügenpresse” during the 2016 election campaign. It became a feature of his campaign rallies to direct the anger of his supporters towards journalists in the venue, leading to exchanges like this from October 2016.
Rosie Gray is a White House correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, which will certainly be a target of the Trumper’s hatred — it carries some good journalism and has taken a consistently anti-Trump line editorially.
Gray interviewed Trump supporter and avowed white supremacist Richard Spencer following the incident she tweeted out from the Cleveland rally and he gleefully told her that lügenpresse had become a buzz word among the so-called “Alt-Right”.
The term has a long history in Germany, where it emerged in a government propaganda booklet during the dying days of World War One. The Nazis appropriated it after their ascension to power in the mid-1930s. It was a powerful weapon used to mobilise the Nazi party supporters behind anti-Jewish pogroms.
It is regarded as a taboo word in Germany today, but it is still used there by the hard-right nationalist parties. Trump has cleverly adapted it by using the term “fake news”.
He thinks this gives him plausible separation from the neo-Nazis, while dog-whistling them and gaslighting the more gullible members of his base.
He’s fooling nobody. The links between Trump’s use of “fake news” and the neo-Nazi chants of lügenpresse are blindingly obvious. Or at least they should be.
However, it seems that, to some extent, Trump’s constant attacks on the news media are working for him.
The strategy is designed to raise doubts in the public mind about the credibility of the news media. Trump knows that most of the critical reporting about him is based on extensive research and – often – interviews with some of his closest advisors. He is also a proven leaker in his own right, often creating the narrative thread that he then denounces as fake.
But Trump doesn’t have to disprove the facts; by simply throwing chump bait into the water, the feeding frenzy takes over, amplified by Trump-friendly outlets like Fox and the other conservative outlets, who either support him or see value in exploiting his presidency for their own white nationalist ends — think Breitbart and so forth.
These are indeed difficult times for the news media trying to cover Trump. However, there are lessons to be learned and past mistakes not to be repeated.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that the news media needs to be aggressive in its coverage of the Trump White House and the many Trump surrogates – such as Rudy Giuliani – who do the rounds of the talk shows blowing smoke and covering for their master’s gaffes.
If journalists try to treat the Trump presidency as anything but abnormal, they risk giving him the control he craves. We saw the normalising of Trump begin to take hold during and just after the Singapore summit.
Headline-hungry reporters were offering their praise and hot-takes about peace on the Korean Peninsula; I was one of the few who held out against this by carefully parsing his media conference and pointing out the obvious anomalies.
The 60 per cent of Americans who instinctively know that Trump is a monster and underserving of his elevated position need to know they can rely on journalists to continue to pursue the stories of corruption, nepotism, cronyism and sheer idiocy that emanate from the Washington swamp under Trump’s watch.
The Mandarin Maniac is yet to go “full Nuremberg” (though we have seen the tiki torch rallies), but we might see something of it when he makes the inevitable rhetoric-heavy speech during the planned $30 million military parade that is being prepared for him on Veterans’ Day in November.
If “chaos is the new normal” then the news media has to cut through, stand tough, take Trump’s hits and keep asking the difficult questions.
Fortunately, there are a handful of brave journalists and correspondents who are willing to stand up for what’s right and show no fear.