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With bash-Trump day, press acts like opposition party

More than 300 newspapers and some prominent journalists agreed to publish editorials Wednesday, denouncing President Trump’s attacks on the media. The list includes The New York Times, The Boston Globe, the Chicago Sun-Times and former CBS News anchor Dan Rather.  

What any one of these papers and individuals expects to accomplish remains unclear. Those who see the media as one of the most mistrusted entities in the U.S. will likely not be swayed, particularly given the coordinated effort of it all. It also doesn’t help that all but one of the participating newspapers did not endorse President Trump before the 2016 election, with the Topeka Capital-Journal being the exception.

{mosads}And, when they all say they’re just here to report on the president fairly, accurately, objectively, without fear or favor or pushing a narrative, a majority of people regardless of party — Democrat, independent, Republican — will not trust the messenger. 


That’s not an opinion but a belief based on polls on the topic of media trust and bias.  

An Axios and Survey Monkey poll of nearly 4,000 adults on June 27 showed 92 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believe “that 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.

No surprise there. But here’s the part that should give pause to these editorial boards before lecturing readers on how noble they are and how horrible Trump is: In the same Axios/Survey Monkey poll, 79 percent of independents polled believe traditional outlets knowingly report false or misleading stories, at least sometimes. Even Democrats agree, by 53 percent. Overall number: 72 percent of respondents  believe “traditional major news sources report news they know to be fake, false, or purposely misleading.” 

Trust in media plummeting to all-time lows isn’t exactly a Trump phenomenon, either. All-time lows were hit several times under the previous administration, bottoming out in 2016 under President Obama with just 32 percent of the public overall saying they trusted the Fourth Estate, including 14 percent of Republicans and just 30 percent of independents. 

Speaking of the 44th president, some may ask where the press was on the coordinated editorial front when Mr. Obama and his Department of Justice (DOJ), led by then-Attorney General Eric Holder, acted as “the greatest enemy to press freedom” since the Nixon years. 

That’s a quote from New York Times reporter James Risen in 2015 — and that’s only the beginning from him, as it pertained to the Obama DOJ jailing journalists for trying to do their jobs. 

“Eric Holder has sent a message to dictators around the world that it is okay to crack down on the press and jail journalists,” Risen tweeted in February 2015. “Eric Holder leaves behind a wrecked First Amendment.”

“Eric Holder managed to destroy any semblance of a reporter’s privilege in the United States,” he continued. “This is Eric Holder’s true legacy on press freedom: ‘There is no First Amendment reporter’s privilege.’ From DOJ brief in my case.”

“I plan to spend the rest of my life fighting to undo damage done to press freedom in the United States by Barack Obama and Eric Holder,” Risen declared. “My son is a reporter. I don’t want him to have to live in a country where there is less press freedom than when I started as a journalist.”

It wasn’t just Risen who felt the effects of the Obama administration’s treatment of journalists but another reporter with a similar name, James Rosen, then Fox News’s State Department correspondent. 

In Rosen’s case, the Obama Justice Department not only spied on him and even his parents but labeled him a “criminal co-conspirator and a flight risk” in order to gain access to his phone records and emails under the 1917 Espionage Act. 

Just picture Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions doing such a thing to a CNN or NBC reporter. If you’re not seeing a media apocolypse in terms of the reaction, please adjust your headset. 

Speaking of phone records, the previous administration secretly seized phone records of Associated Press reporters, which the news organization called “serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.”

Where was the outcry and editorial coordination from American media back then?  

The Boston Globe led the coordinated effort among editorial boards. This is the same paper that ran on its front page, before Trump even took office, a hypothetical series of stories that “imagined” what the country will look like under his administration. 

Fictional headlines included: 

“Deportations To Begin.” (They must be forgetting deportations hit record numbers under the Obama administration.)

“Markets sink as trade war looms.” (The Dow is up more than 5,000 points since Inauguration Day in January 2017.)

“U.S. soldiers refuse orders to kill ISIS families.” (ISIS has lost 98 percent of the territory it once controlled, or more than 40,000 square miles, since Trump took office. No reports of soldiers disobeying orders.)

These “imagined” headlines weren’t satire reserved for the editorial page or the cartoon section. It was plastered on Page 1 to underscore some obvious points: We don’t like Trump, we think he’ll fail miserably and here’s how.

In the end, hundreds of papers telling us how bad Trump has been for press freedom may make all those involved feel good for a day, but it won’t move the needle one bit. It may even have an opposite effect than the one intended. 

Yes, calling the press the “enemy of the people” is way over the top, and obviously wrong. But Trump’s rhetoric is nothing compared to Obama’s actions in terms of press treatment. 

We heard much about “soul-searching” by some in the press after getting the 2016 election so wrong by failing to listen to Americans and get a true pulse of where the country stood. Yet, nothing has changed.

This tactic will serve only to be another piece of evidence for the president to point to and say: “See? They’re all colluding against me as the opposition party.” 

Bob Woodward of Watergate and multiple-Pulizer fame put it best. “I worry, I worry for the business, for the perception of the business, not just Trump supporters, they see that smugness,” he said in May 2017. “I think you can ride both horses, intensive inquiry, investigation, not letting up. At the same time, realize that it’s not our job to do an editorial on this.” 

Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) is a media reporter for The Hill and host of “What America’s Thinking.”

This piece has been updated.

Tags Barack Obama Donald Trump Eric Holder first amendment Freedom of the press Jeff Sessions Joe Concha media White House

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