Before Donald Trump gets a chance to call another press conference like last week’s—in which he excoriated reporters as “sleazy,” “extremely dishonest,” “unfair,” “not good people” and so on—can we get something straight? Far from wanting to declare a war on the press, as the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman, Dan Rather, Nat Hentoff and others would have it, can we all agree on what’s really going on—that Trump actually loves the press?
Granted, Trump has been expressing his love in a gruff way since the campaign began. “You know, you’re a nasty guy. You’re a really nasty guy,” Trump said to a Washington Post reporter last month who grilled him about his donations to veterans’ groups. He threatened Post owner Jeff Bezos, who runs Amazon, with an antitrust case after he wins the presidency. He’s vowed to “open up” the libel laws to make it easier to sue publications like the Post and the New York Times when they “write purposely negative and horrible and false articles.” Reporters are “slime,” he’s said. “Dishonest slime.” His staff has denied POLITICO reporter Ben Schreckinger (and others) accreditation, effectively banning them from his rallies. Then there’s all that Megyn Kelly history. Trump’s favorite press target today is NBC News’ Katy Tur for having the temerity to criticize his campaign’s structure.
But the reporters who cover Trump and his daily hyperbole should know better than to read so much into these insults and vendettas. When Trump praises things—usually things associated with himself—he overdoes it, using words like the “best,” the “greatest,” the “biggest,” “tremendous” and “spectacular” where a less excitable person might use “good” or “fine.” When he criticizes things (or people) he displays no patience for making the subtle point, reflexively describing them as “disgusting,” the “worst,” “weak,” “clueless,” “scum,” “crooked,” “ridiculous,” “unfair,” “bad,” “false” or “lies” as a compilation of Twitters insults he has issued shows. When expressing himself, Trump knows only paradise and disaster, giants and dwarves. It’s a worldview that rarely reaches beyond the binary. When Trump calls a reporter a sleaze or claims he’s going change the libel laws—something that is beyond a president’s powers—we should put no more stock in those words than we do when he promises his forthcoming U.S.-Mexico wall will be “beautiful.”
Some journalists—dare I say it?—are overreacting to Trump’s bile and bluster. It’s not that his outbursts are merely for show. He obviously gets steamed at direct, prodding questions that he can’t evade. But his eagerness to insult the press—it was by his choice that the press-damning press conference went on for 40-minutes—perversely signals his passion for the labors of the fourth estate. The Trump vs. the press story is like a rom-com sit-com, only it airs on the news channels!
Far from seeking war with reporters, Trump has generally been very cozy with them...
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