Everyone wins in the war between Trump and the media — except you

Everyone wins in the war between Trump and the media — except you
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In the game that is Trump vs. the media and vice-versa, everybody involved wins. 

Except, of course, those at home simply looking to get news that matters to them

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On one side is the president, who realized very early on in his political career that the media is no different than any other wildly unpopular institution. Democrats used to attack an unpopular Congress. Republicans used to attack an unpopular IRS. It's the oldest game in the book, in the swamps of D.C. 

 

On the other side are reporters who make themselves the story — like CNN's Jim Acosta.

After being heckled at a recent Trump rally he said he felt like he wasn't in America anymore. Acosta would later demand that press secretary Sarah Sanders denounce Trump's rhetoric around the press being "the enemy of the people" before walking out of the briefing in a huff. He generated many headlines for himself in the process. 

In the past, Republicans and conservatives generally tried to play nice to a media clearly biased against them.

Trump witnessed this and appeared to make a different calculation after dealing with the New York tabloid press for decades: He was going to call out bias, head-on, and condemn those who bill themselves as non-partisan. The coverage was already decidedly hostile, so Trump appeared to figure, "What the hell do I have to lose?" 

The Fourth Estate wasn't used to this kind of blowback from any politician, so some — not all — took the bait instead of taking the high road. 

Is Trump thin-skinned? Yes. So is the press.

On cue, they turned up the snark on Twitter, vitriol and open contempt for Trump. Without a hint of self-awareness, they played right into Trump's argument about a press that could not and should not be trusted.

Bob Woodward, one of the last unbiased reporters out there, put it best in March in an interview with Newsweek, “A number of reporters have at times become emotionally unhinged about it all.”

“You will see those continually either denigrating Trump or praising him,” he added. “It’s important to get your personal politics out.” 

So is the president winning this back-and-forth with the press? One survey is quite telling regarding the scoreboard: According to a July CBS poll, Trump's base is in lockstep with the president's anti-press perspective. The poll found 91 percent of Trump supporters believe the president is providing them accurate information; 63 percent say the same when it comes to information from friends and family (no, really), and just 11 percent of Trump supporters believe the media provides them accurate information.

In terms of Trump calling the media "fake news," the public, in general, agree with the characterization. A vast majority of Americans — 72 percent — believe "traditional major news sources report news they know to be fake, false, or purposely misleading," according to a June poll from Axios and SurveyMonkey. 

The poll also shows that 92 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say "traditional news outlets knowingly report false or misleading stories at least sometimes," a finding in line with other recent polls conducted by Pew Research and Gallup.

It also found that independents and Democrats, by strong and slight majorities, respectively agree, with 79 percent of independents saying traditional outlets knowingly report false or misleading stories at least sometimes; Democrats agree by 53 percent.  

So when the media lambastes the president for not being honest, it clearly doesn't understand that it's the wrong messenger on this front.

Another question: Is trust in media being at an all-time low just a Trump phenomenon, as some claim? 

Well, while the president has undoubtedly accelerated mistrust of the press — particularly among Republicans and conservatives — trust in media actually hit all-time lows on several occasions during the Obama administration, bottoming out in 2016 at just 32 percent. 

Reasons: a.) More opinions being injected into straight news reporting, leading to distrust; b.) Twitter exposing some prominent reporters to be biased in one direction; c.) polarization in the country increasing, with more people looking for their beliefs to be validated than for news and perspective with which they might disagree; d.) hyperbole/sensationalism via every banner screaming "BREAKING NEWS" for every story; e.) the almost-extinct state of objective news sources.

For those calling on Trump to tone down the rhetoric, don't expect that to ever happen. For him, this is sentiment half-based on emotion on the negative coverage itself and half based on political calculation. "Enemy of the people" is overplaying the hand by a factor of 10, but that's always who Trump has been in terms of hyperbole and absolutes dominating his rhetoric. "Enemy of my administration" would be more accurate.

On the other side is the media. Many dismiss or ignore polls showing an overwhelming bias against Trump. To acknowledge these findings would step on their own narrative.

For journalists like Jim Acosta, the results of openly debating the administration on policy and grandstanding in the process have only been positive: Earlier this year, he was promoted by the network to be its chief White House correspondent. He also received a standing ovation when he appeared on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"

Want to talk about winning? Acosta now has officially become his own brand by becoming the focus of almost every press briefing. 

In the stands watching all of this unfold is the American news consumer. Yes, the hardcore partisans on both sides seem to enjoy the food-fight, despite it becoming so repetitive and almost tedious at this point. But many in the middle — largely apolitical — are the ones losing big-time here.  

When was the last time a press briefing didn’t produce a headline about a heated exchange between Acosta and Sanders?

The confrontation always trumps the policy and numbers.

In the end, Trump succeeds at branding the press “the enemy” — and Acosta succeeds at making himself the story.

The losers are those simply looking for the news. You know, those people that the president and the press are supposed to serve.  

Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) is a media reporter for The Hill.