Media critic Howard Kurtz says the mainstream media are in grave danger of irreparably damaging their credibility by so blatantly and viscerally attacking President Trump on a daily basis, and he says those reporters are actually doing the president they loathe a huge political favor.
Kurtz is a longtime media analyst and columnist. He hosts “Media Buzz” on the Fox News Channel and is the author of the new book, “Media Madness: Donald Trump, the Press, and the War over the Truth.”
Kurtz says mainstream journalists effectively declared war on Trump from the moment his campaign started in 2015.
“There was something about Donald Trump that just gets under their skin. First, they just wrote him off. He was a clown. He was a sideshow. He was never going to win the nomination, and of course he wasn’t going to win the election,” said Kurtz.
Since getting elected, the media have only intensified the negative coverage.
“Many journalists try to be fair but the overwhelming tone from most news organizations and many journalists is negative to the point that it’s almost a tsunami of negative coverage. I think there’s something cultural there, there’s something visceral, there’s something about Donald Trump that just has made them change the standards they used in the past,” said Kurtz.
Kurtz also points out that this media wear goes in both directions, with Trump frequently blasting what he considers “fake news,” sometimes mentioning reporters by name. Kurtz believes Trump “punches down” against the media too often and that some rhetoric goes too far but he says Trump’s frustration with the coverage of his presidency is understandable.
“I didn’t agree with Steve Bannon when he said the press was the opposition party, but sometimes we do a pretty good imitation. It’s not just opposing the policies. It’s all the personal stuff, attacking his family. There’s a lot in the book about all the horrible unfair press she gets because some social moderates and liberals think she should change her dad’s mind on every single subject,” said Kurtz.
And he says the onslaught often devolves into petty matters.
“Trump cheats at golf. Trump had two scoops of ice cream. Trump eats pizza with a fork. It’s just relentless, and it’s fueled by celebrities that also say very harsh things about him,” said Kurtz.
In the book, Kurtz is clearly pained by journalists shedding all pretense of objectivity and seeing it as their duty to combat the president and his administration.
“But the mainstream media, subconsciously at first, have lurched into the opposition camp, are appealing to an anti-Trump base of viewers and readers, failing to grasp how deeply they are distrusted by a wide swath of the country,” wrote Kurtz.
“I am increasingly troubled by how many of my colleagues have decided to abandon any semblance of fairness out of a conviction that they must save the country from Trump,” he added.
Kurtz then details the impact this incessant hostility against Trump is having on journalism as a whole.
“My greatest fear is that organized journalism has badly lost its way in the Trump era and may never fully recover. Even if the Trump presidency crashes and burns – in which case the press will claim vindication – the scars of distrust might never heal,” writes Kurtz.
In our interview, Kurtz expanded on those concerns.
“I hope I make the case in this book that there’s a real imbalance among some journalists who just think it’s their mission to stop Donald Trump from what he’s doing and maybe to knock him out of office. I think the damage is very real, really troubling, and it’s not good for he country,” said Kurtz.
However, the great irony, says Kurtz, is that this perpetual media venom over every action Trump takes only helps the president.
“It enables him to dominate and drive the news agenda every day. Also, many of his supporters out there in the country not only have more sympathy for the guy they see as their champion when he gets overwhelmingly negative coverage, but they also believe the elite media in New York, D.C., L.A. and so forth, look down on them and view them condescendingly. There are examples in the book of how that’s pretty true,” said Kurtz.
Trump often has a strategy to his media battles, rather than just shooting from the hip or the lip as his critics conclude. In June 2017, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski ridiculed Trump on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” including jokes about his small hands. Trump fired back on Twitter.
“I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!” tweeted Trump.
While the media reacted in horror and others found it unbecoming of a president, this passage from Kurtz’s book reveals that Trump accomplished his real goal.
“Trump asked Anthony Scaramucci what he thought of the tweets against Mika and Joe: ‘I know what you’re going to say – unpresidential. Then what?’
“I don’t think you needed to go there,” Scaramucci said.
“‘Is Korea off the TV?’ Trump asked. Yes, the Mooch replied. North Korea’s nuclear buildup had been eclipsed
“Is health care off the TV?” True, the impasse over the Senate bill had faded.
“Sounds good to me,” said Trump.
The investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections dominates mainstream media coverage. Kurtz says some developments warrant major coverage but most do not.
“It’s a perfectly legitimate story. There’s a special counsel. There have been indictments and guilty pleas, but every incremental development gets hyped like it’s the next Watergate,” said Kurtz.
He says in the media rush to convict Trump of heinous crimes, they are failing to corroborate critical accusations and losing credibility in the process.
I think there’s too law a bar and I think there’s too much of a trigger finger when it comes to this president. CNN had three high-profile mistakes involving the president last year. One of them was about Anthony Scaramucci, who later became communications director for about 10 minutes, and three journalists got fired over that,” said Kurtz.
CNN also reported that Trump and his son, Donald Trump, Jr., received copies of Wikileaks releases of hacked emails before they went public. That was also not true. ABC News suspended reporter Brian Ross for stating that Trump campaign officials met with Russian officials, when the meeting actually happened during the transition period.
However, Kurtz asserts that Trump operates a bit recklessly as well.
“There’s a term that some of his advisers have coined called ‘defiance disorder.’ What that means is they all get together and say, ‘Sir, you can’t do this. Don’t do this. It’ll be political suicide, don’t do it,’ he does it anyway because he’s Donald Trump and nobody tells him what to do,” said Kurtz.
Kurtz also says Trump’s constant blasting of the media could wear thin on his marginal supporters.
“I think it really excites the people who really like this president and think they’re viewed with disdain by the elite media, but I don’t think it helps him expand his base beyond that 38-40 percent that are very loyal to Donald Trump,” said Kurtz.
But long term, Kurtz says the the media is doing themselves the greatest damage. He says the initial results of higher ratings for MSNBC and CNN and higher digital subscriptions for the New York Times show the open hostility is paying off in the short term. So he expects the negative barrage to continue.
“I don’t see any daylight there. I don’t think it’s good for the country. I think there’s damage on both sides, but I particularly worry about my profession, which I love,” said Kurtz. “There’s going to come a day when Donald Trump is no longer in the White House, but I think it’s going to be hard for us to get much of this credibility back,” said Kurtz.