A new phase for Trump’s media war

A new phase for Trump’s media war
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Media coverage of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems win from coast to coast Falwell after Gillespie loss: 'DC should annex' Northern Virginia Dems see gains in Virginia's House of Delegates MORE is shifting in a more negative direction as the presumptive GOP presidential nominee opens another front in his war with the Fourth Estate.

The Trump campaign revoked press credentials for The Washington Post on Monday, initially objecting to a headline regarding remarks he made about President Obama and the mass shooting in Orlando.

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But coverage from the Post, as well as The New York Times, on Trump’s speech on the massacre included some phrases that are sure to stoke the businessman’s ire once again.

The Post reported, “In a speech laden with falsehoods and exaggeration, Trump was antagonistic and pugnacious, in stark contrast with his Democratic opponent, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP rushes to cut ties to Moore Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Stephen Miller, helped edit Trump speech: report Bannon jokes Clinton got her ‘ass kicked’ in 2016 election MORE.” It added, “While Trump was fiery and combative, Clinton was cool and
collected.”

The Times stated Trump “repeatedly stretched the facts.” The newspaper also reported that “Trump carefully read his remarks from a teleprompter and offered more detail than his stump speeches generally contain, but his speech was still rife with the sort of misstatements and exaggerations that have typified his campaign.”

To Trump’s critics, that kind of language is a sign that news media are making an appropriate and long-awaited
effort to hold Trump to account. His supporters, however, will no doubt see it as the injection of liberal opinion into news stories. There will be plenty of people in both camps, just as has been the case throughout his yearlong campaign.

Either way, the change is tangible.

“Especially with the Times and the Post, there has been a really clear shift in the nature of its coverage of Trump,” said Steven Livingston, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University. “You also saw this recently when CNN was fact-checking Trump live. 

“There is a sense that it is now acceptable, or expected, for news organizations to go beyond the conventional professional standards of even-handedness; that this guy is in need of extra special care and attention,” Livingston added.

The shift comes after new twists in the complicated relationship between Trump and the media.

Two weeks ago, Trump held a news conference in New York during which he lambasted reporters as “among the most dishonest people that I’ve ever met,” calling one “a sleaze.”

At the time, the businessman was on the defensive over allegations that his Trump University was little more than a scam and that he had been slow to make promised donations to veterans groups.

But the increasingly searching analyses of Trump’s behavior, rhetoric and record may also be a consequence of the simple fact that he has become the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.

Paul Waldman, a liberal columnist for the Post, wrote recently, “If the tone of his coverage up until now has been ‘Wow, is this election crazy or what!’ it could become much more serious — as is completely appropriate given that we’re choosing someone to hold the most powerful position on earth.”

Still, the media face obvious challenges. Collectively, the media’s poll ratings are so bad that if it were a political candidate, it would have been left for dead long ago. Only 6 percent of the U.S. public has a lot of confidence in the media, according to an April study by the Media Insight Project, a partnership of The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute.

“It’s the media’s duty to check facts, but the media have minimal credibility, so therefore the fact-checking has minimal credibility,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor who specializes in political communications. “If the public don’t believe or trust the media, why would they trust the media’s fact-checking?”

During the Republican primary campaign, Trump’s attacks on the media did him no apparent harm. He has long used the tactic of revoking credentials to outlets whose coverage he dislikes. CNNMoney.com on Tuesday published a list of news organizations that have been blacklisted by Trump. It included Univision, BuzzFeed, Politico, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post and The Des Moines Register. 

Trump supporters can make a defense of some of these choices. The Huffington Post originally made a point of classifying stories about Trump as “entertainment” rather than “politics.” Now, the outlet appends an editor’s note to stories about him, calling him “a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther.”

But Trump’s own remarks about members of the media may have crossed a line, the full effects of which are yet to be seen. Remarks and gestures he made last November were widely seen as mocking New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski for a rare physical condition that limits the functionality of his joints. A super-PAC supporting Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, released a new TV ad referencing those remarks just last week in what it said would be a $20 million buy.

Some experts also argue that, whatever its upside, Trump’s confrontational approach to the media could come back to hurt him between now and November.

“I think he’s playing with fire,” Livingston said.