One surprising thing about Donald Trump’s war on the press is that even the press itself is willing to consider the possibility that, on this one, the president might actually be right.
Trump got things rolling, as he often does, with a tweet. “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” he said.
One might have expected the press to circle the wagons in defense. Instead, at least some of the more honest journalists have acknowledged that the president has a point.
Conrad Black, my former partner in the New York Sun and a longtime press baron who once controlled some of the world’s largest and best newspapers, wrote, “Provided that what is meant is that those outlets have been so slanted and malicious that they have misled the declining section of the country that takes them seriously and that this is inimical to the country’s democratic desire for an informed electorate, it is a justified statement.”
Black wrote, “The recent political coverage of those outlets has been a disgrace and the failure to realize that reveals the moral bankruptcy of most of the U.S. national press.”
Jason Riley, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, wrote, “The president is on firmer ground than his media foes,” adding, “The press seems more interested in berating the president than in covering him.”
It’s one thing to notice that much of the press has abandoned its traditional role of detached observer and swung openly into a more unusual activist posture, effectively joining the “resistance.” It’s another thing to start offering readers guidance on how to start tuning out in response.
The New York Times had its technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo, go for a week without reading, watching or listening to a single story about President Trump. That means Manjoo skipped a lot of his own newspaper. He blamed social media and cable news for amplifying the cycle of outrage and making Trump a bigger portion of most people’s news diet than he should be. “Today’s newspapers are also full of non-Trump articles, but many of us aren’t reading newspapers anymore,” Manjoo wrote. “We’re reading Facebook and watching cable, and there, Mr. Trump is all anyone talks about, to the exclusion of almost all else.”
The Harvard Business Review, for its part, recently published an article by the director of the Institute for Global Happiness, Neil Pasricha. He recommended going on a “news fast” by skipping newspapers or magazines and reading books instead.
Somehow I don’t recall Harvard calling for a “news fast” back during the Obama administration, or The New York Times advising its readers back in February of 2009 how they could manage to go a full week without having to suffer the unpleasantness of reading, watching or hearing about President Obama.
Even in advising readers how to avoid the biased press, the press manages to show its bias.
Present company excepted, of course.
Trump himself doesn’t have the luxury of tuning out. Neither do voters, at least long term, if they want to make informed decisions.
For a person often depicted by the elite press as more or less a clown, Trump sure is a sophisticated consumer of news media. Maybe I’m being too generous to him, but my own sense is that he isn’t trying to get the public to hate the press. He’d just like more people to read and watch with a healthy dose of skepticism and independent-mindedness. No matter what you think of Trump, it’s hard to disagree with that.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of “JFK: Conservative.” His column appears Sunday.