Presidential races

Trump goes to war against media

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is steeling himself for a protracted battle against an increasingly hostile press, adding the media to the list of establishment institutions he intends to crush on his way to the White House.

Trump’s stunning move to make Breitbart News Executive Chairman Steve Bannon his campaign’s CEO was a decision to shake up his faltering campaign, but it was also a clear response to the complaints about the coverage of his candidacy.

{mosads}Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart has championed Trump’s rise while adopting a provocative and combative tone toward the press, the GOP’s congressional leadership and others who have criticized or questioned the nominee.

Bringing Bannon into the Trump tent will almost certainly lead to a new chapter in the fight between Trump and the media, which is already engaged in a fierce debate over how to cover the GOP nominee.

“The press has declared Armageddon on Trump and Trump is responding with Armageddon and all-out warfare,” said Armstrong Williams, a conservative media investor and radio personality who is close friends with Bannon.

Trump benefitted greatly from the media’s wall-to-wall coverage of his campaign during the GOP primaries, with one study finding he’d received $2 billion in free exposure as he ran roughshod over the deepest field of Republicans to ever run for president.

The rise of Trump also boosted the fortunes of media companies, which have enjoyed elevated ratings and web traffic.

More recently, however, the relationship between Trump and the media has soured as his poll numbers have plummeted and television anchors and reporters alike have taken an increasingly skeptical tone in their coverage.

The GOP nominee says he is running against a “crooked media” that he believes is hell-bent on sinking his campaign.

Some of Trump’s conservative allies say the GOP nominee is to blame for the media frenzy and negative coverage that has enveloped him, though even critics of Trump have acknowledged a shift in coverage.

But independent media watchers say that an emboldened press has found new and unorthodox ways to cover Trump that are at odds with past norms or how Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is covered.

And liberal writers Ezra Klein at Vox and Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone took to their sites this week to argue that many journalists have dropped any veneer of impartiality in covering Trump.

“Slowly, surely, the media has turned on Trump,” Klein, Vox News’s editor-in-chief, wrote on Tuesday. “He still gets wall-to-wall coverage, but that coverage is overwhelmingly negative. Increasingly, the press doesn’t even pretend to treat Trump like a normal candidate.”

Klein pointed to CNN fact-checking Trump on-screen and in real-time — something they have yet to do for Clinton. 

He noted that Buzzfeed is allowing reporters to describe Trump as a “mendacious racist” and singled-out a New York Times viral video of “unfiltered” statements made at Trump rallies that has been shared on social media as an example of Trump’s supporters being unrefined and racist.

“This is not normal,” Klein wrote. “There are rules within traditional political reporting operations about how you cover presidential candidates.”

Taibbi, the liberal political editor at Rolling Stone, wrote that many in the press have made the conscious decision to pass on negative stories about Clinton and the Democrats for fear that it could lead to Trump getting elected president.

“He is considered so dangerous that many journalists are beginning to be concerned that admitting the truth of negative reports of any kind about the Democrats might make them complicit in the election of the American Hitler,” Taibbi wrote.

“There are reporters who are quietly promising themselves they’ll go back to being independent and above the fray in November, after we’re past the threat of a Trump presidency.”

On the flip side, many Republicans are quick to argue that the GOP nominee is responsible for the media frenzy and negative coverage surrounding his campaign.

They say that Trump can’t abide the spotlight being off him for even a minute and that his incendiary rhetoric is often to blame for negative coverage about him overshadowing scrutiny of Clinton.

“There’s always been the sense that Republicans don’t get treated as fairly in the media as the Democrats do, but Trump also creates a lot of his own problems,” said GOP media consultant Scott Howell.

And while Republicans have long bemoaned the biased coverage they see emanating from liberal newsrooms, Trump has at times treated the press with outright contempt. 

He has mused about scaling back First Amendment protections, blackballed reporters from The Washington Post and Politico from his rallies, singled-out specific reporters for public ridicule and frequently whips crowds into a frenzy against the journalists attending his rallies.

“Trump’s attacks on the media seem to go beyond standard ‘working the referee’ kinds of comments,” said John Sides, a media tracker and associate professor of political science at George Washington University.

“His attacks seem to reflect a more fundamental attack on First Amendment ideals,” Sides said. “I don’t know that journalists are personally fearful of a President Trump — as if he’d sic the FBI on them. But they do reject his apparent view of the media’s role in a democracy.”

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