The war between the White House and the press is escalating 200 days into the new administration, with President Trump launching daily attacks on the press and an emboldened news media becoming increasingly transparent about its hostility toward the president.
The White House has struggled to hit on a consistent communications strategy or a reasonable way of dealing with the combative press corps.
Former press secretary Sean Spicer is gone, as is Anthony Scaramucci, whose brief tenure as communications director exacerbated tensions between the White House and the media and contributed to the sense that the White House’s communications strategy has no direction.
The communications director job has already been filled three times, by Mike Dubke, Spicer and Scaramucci. Now the job is open again, even as Trump steams ahead with his effort to undermine public trust in the “fake news” media.
Meanwhile, Trump’s aides and outside allies are astonished by how quickly the mainstream press has taken to ridiculing the administration or engaging in what they see as petty score-settling.
Top mainstream media figures and news outlets are tweaking Trump for taking a 17-day “working vacation,” writing stories about the personal lives of administration officials that are meant to cast them as hypocrites and adopting a sneering tone that Trump’s allies say is unprecedented.
“Both sides could stand to dial it back, but I don’t think this is a relationship that can be repaired,” said former Trump adviser Barry Bennett.
Tensions have exploded since last week’s briefing room showdown between Trump policy adviser Stephen Miller, who relishes sparring with the news media, and CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta, who has become one of the leading critics of the administration in the White House press corps.
Both sides believe they won the exchange.
Miller’s performance — in which he denounced Acosta as an out-of-touch “cosmopolitan” — was celebrated in the White House and even provoked chatter that Trump is considering him for communications director.
At the briefing, Acosta read a portion of the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. Many conservatives say that gesture confirmed their suspicions that reporters are merely out to make a name for themselves by grandstanding and that the White House would be better served to turn the briefing room cameras off once and for all.
The media, meanwhile, rallied behind Acosta, with mocking takes from comedian Pauly Shore and HBO host John Oliver ensuring the clip would go viral.
This week, reporters moved on to jeering at Trump’s “working vacation.” The president — a fierce critic of former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama says US 'desperately needs' Biden legislation ahead of key votes Obamas to break ground Tuesday on presidential center in Chicago A simple fix can bring revolutionary change to health spending MORE’s downtime — is spending the next two weeks at his golf club in New Jersey as Congress is in recess and the White House undergoes renovations.
In a way, Trump is right that he's not taking a vacation. He appears to be watching the shows and tweeting just like he does at the WH.— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) August 7, 2017
Working hard or hardly working, amirite? https://t.co/CI2mtgxXFU— Chris Cillizza (@CillizzaCNN) August 7, 2017
Trump’s allies say that social media has finally pulled back the curtain on reporter biases.
“It is as if they can no longer report without their personal bias,” said Katrina Pierson, a spokeswoman for the pro-Trump group America First Polices. “In other words, newspapers have become essentially opinion blogs instead of public information and education. The Twitter feed of some so-called journalists tells you everything you need to know.”
But some media experts say the reaction from the press has been fair, usually coming in response to one of Trump’s attacks.
Trump’s inability to get his own house in order deserves scorn, says George Washington University media studies professor Steven Livingston. Livingston says the White House should expect pushback on its efforts to undermine the public’s confidence in the news media.
“They’re inviting mockery,” Livingston said. “Most White Houses are able to cover their bases by installing a stable communications director that isn’t going to do like Scaramucci did and call The New Yorker with a profanity-laced tirade.”
“What we’re seeing from Trump World is a deliberate strategy to make sure key political institutions that pose a threat to them — including the press — are undermined or delegitimized because they pose a threat,” Livingston said.
The media has found new and cheeky ways to fight back.
The New York Times fact-checked Trump’s Monday Twitter tirade claiming that the newspaper is “failing” by pointing to increased revenues and subscriber figures.
That is incorrect. NYT’s business is thriving. Most ever paid subs: 3.3 million; and growing profit, income and revenues. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/NE5fqu8RVW— NYTCo Communications (@NYTimesComm) August 7, 2017
And CNN’s Jake Tapper opened his Monday night show by calling Trump out for claiming that the media ignored new sanctions placed on the regime in North Korea.
<---- Just did two blocks on it https://t.co/r3eS7Hze3f— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) August 7, 2017
Some media analysts say the press has been too aggressive in its handling of Trump.
"I am all for the press reporting aggressively on any administration," said Jeff McCall, a professor of media studies at DePauw University. "I do think, however, that the coverage should be professional in content and tone. Reporters want to cover Trump, however, with emotion-laden wording, armchair analysis and sometimes-flimsy sourcing, and that leads to a perception by Trump followers that the media is out to demean Trump."
Conversely, some of Trump's allies wish the president would let the coverage roll off his back.
Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, who is friends with Trump, described the president as the "greatest counterpuncher God ever created" but said he would like to see Trump scale back his feud with the media nonetheless.
"My own view is that the president should take the high road and rarely respond to media attacks," Ruddy said. "Deep down, he knows the American public will judge him on his results for the economy and security, and what the press says won't matter much in the end."
Scaramucci revealed in a leaked memo that he hoped to repair the relationship with the press. Some of Trump’s allies are hopeful that the next communications director will try to keep up the effort.
“You hear conservatives criticize the president for talking to The New York Times, but you have to deal with The New York Times, that’s a reality of life,” said Sam Nunberg, a former campaign adviser.
“The next communications director will have to deal with all of these outlets and their reporters, so it’s important to have at least a working relationship. The president can deal with them any way he sees fit. It’s the job of the staff not to make things worse.”