Donald Trump and his Enemy Number 1
It will be interesting to see who will wince first in what my distinguished colleague, Yakubu Mohammed, has described as Mr. Trump’s epic battle with the Press. Neither side is relenting. Mr. Trump is digging in and the media is not backing down. Mr. Trump cannot resist hitting the media at every given opportunity. In February, the White House Correspondents Association sent him an invitation ahead of their annual dinner, an event since 1921 Presidents before Mr. Trump’s ascension to the throne looked forward to with joy and aplomb. The association was formed in 1914. It was President Warren Harding who breathed life into the event when he gave dinner for the White House correspondents who had covered his campaign in Ohio, a crucial state in American Presidential elections. He had been a newspaper publisher to boot, if you like, before becoming President. Since then the dinner has always been an affair in national focus, parading celebrities and boasting of the prime movers from all corners of the American society—politicians, business moguls and leading figures in the world of Arts.
Mr. Trump turned down the invitation. One would have thought that a two-month gap would get him to reconsider; no, Mr. Trump snubbed the media. He stood by his decision not to grace the occasion. He was in far away Pennsylvania last Saturday at the time the dinner was taking place. In his words: “I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from Washington swamp, spending my evening with all of you and with a much larger crowd and much better people, right?” The dinner coincided with his first 100 days during which he had promised to work miracles to make ‘America great again.’ He did say during the campaigns, for example, that Obamacare would go on the very day he was sworn in. The bill which, as it turned out, he had not thought through exhaustively was thrown out of the window in the House of Representatives when the leadership feared he would not be able to muster enough legislative clout to overturn the health care Act.
On the symbolic 100 days which both the Oval Office, the Congress and the voters benchmark to show how much handle of national affairs and programmes implementation the President has, Mr. Trump dismissed it as mythical. “It’s a false standard, 100 days,” he said. “But I have to tell you, I don’t think anybody has done what we’ve been able to do in 100 days, so we’re very happy.” He went from there to slam the media for ‘misleading Americans.’ Pennsylvania is politically crucial to him because since Mr. George H.W. Bush election in 1988, it was the first time a Republican candidate would sweep the polls with 48 per cent of the votes. He listed his achievements nevertheless as getting a conservative judge onto the Supreme Court whereas Mr. Obama’s candidate was stonewalled in the Senate; second was the calibre of his Cabinet choices, and the third, the approval he gave for the construction of Keystone pipeline. At the Pennsylvanian rally he restated his promises on healthcare and tax reforms reducing tax from 35 to 15 per cent. The listed achievements are considered as not yet significant by the press.
The sign that the war between him and the Press was not going to abate any time soon had been foreshadowed by the rejection by CNN of an advertisement Trump camp had sought to place on its spot. The advertisement seemingly showcasing Trump’s achievements carried four cartoons. One of them said, “The media are printing false news.” In the narration that was supposed to go with the advertisement, it was claimed that “America has rarely seen such success,” and the narrator went on to list several other achievements. CNN defended its decision to reject the advertisement in a statement which states: “The mainstream media is not fake news, and therefore the ad is false. Per our policy, it will be accepted only if that graphic is deleted.” The executive director of Trump campaign Committee rejected the explanation and called the decision of CNN censorship pure and simple. “By rejecting our ad, CNN has proven that it supports censorship, is biased and fears an opposing point of view. President Trump’s supporters know the truth: The mainstream media mislead, misguide, deceive and distracts.” CNN said it would run the 30 second advertisement, a celebration of Trump’s first 100 days only if the campaign would remove the section that featured “fake news” superimposed over TV journalists including the familiar face Wolf Blitzer of CNN, ABC, CBS and two other organisations. The Columbia journalism Review editor, Kyle Pope justified CNN stance saying, news organisations set standards both in advertisements they choose to air and in what they cover. “It’s totally within their rights to set ground rules with how they deal with this Administration”, he said. Bob Woodward who broke the Watergate scandal of Richard Nixon presidency, backing the CNN, said: “The Press, especially the so-called mainstream media, comes under regular attack. Mr. President, the media is not fake news. Let’s take that off the table as we proceed.”
The White House Correspondent Association Dinner was held as planned without Mr. Trump in attendance. It was indeed oversubscribed in the words of the leader of the association. He said on the occasion last Saturday: “We cannot ignore the rhetoric that has been employed by the President about who we are and what we do. We are not fake news. We are not failing news organisations. And we are not the enemy of the American people. We are here to celebrate the Press, not the presidency. I am happy to report for anyone who’s interested that this dinner is sold out.” Although Mr. Harding sponsored the dinner of 1921 he could not attend in person. However, the hotel where it took place was filled by his aides. The second time a President could not attend the night was in 1981. The then President, Mr. Don Reagan was in hospital following the attempt on his life. Even then he spoke through the phone expressing felicitations.
What is fascinating in all this is the firm resolve of the American Press not to be bullied into submission by Mr. Trump and this is what interests me. As New York Times says in its accustomed magisterial editorial, “Governing, so far, has turned out to be more than Mr. Trump can manage. He didn’t know very much coming into the job of president, including how little he knew he did not know, and the extent of his own ignorance has come as a continual surprise to him.” Mr. Trump said the press is made up of the worst kind of people on earth! Where did it all start?
Right from the beginning, the American media mounted the campaign that Mr. Trump was a dangerous man and would not make a good president. Los Angeles Times said Mr. Trump was uniquely unfit to be President of the United States. Washington Post in its headline stated: ‘‘It’s beyond debate that Donald Trump is unfit to be President.” And the paper wrote: “Even if Trump manages to conduct himself presidentially for an hour and a half, that could not undo the many, many instances…in which he has insulted, acted out, lied and countenanced violence beyond even some of the most rough and tumble precedents of modern America politics.” Many Conservative newspapers declined to approve of Mr. Trump’s candidacy. A newspaper like The Atlantic as an example rated as a bastion of journalism since 1857 does not usually endorse presidential candidates…”except doom day is near.” Last year it jettisoned its editorial policy. It was said of it that in its 159-year history, it had endorsed only two candidates. The first time was 104 years back and the second was in 1964. For fear of Barry Goldwater presidency, it voted for Lyndon Baines Johnson. The newspaper added Hillary Clinton to what commentators called the exclusive club. The Dallas Morning News approving Mrs. Clinton for President said it had not recommended a Democrat for the nation’s highest office since the World War11—“if you are counting, that’s more than 75 years and nearly 20 elections.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer said in its own editorial that it was breaking from a nearly-long century tradition to support Hillary Clinton, telling its readers: “This is not a traditional race, and these are not traditional times.” The Arizona Republic also sided with Hillary Clinton, first time the paper backed a Democrat since its founding in 1880. Same as San Diego Union-Tribune which had not promoted a Democrat in its 148-year history. The Chicago Sun-times pronouncing its endorsement of Mrs. Clinton explained its shift in policy to its readers thus: “… the best way to avert a train wreck is to wave a warning flag as soon as possible.” USA Today, although did not approve of Mrs. Clinton directly, it spoke in parables: “Resist the siren song of a dangerous demagogue. By all means vote, just not for Donald Trump.”
The New York Times wrote a series of editorials. In one it said, “…Donald Trump…least prepared presidential candidate nominated by a major party. The Republican Party’s trek into the darkness took a fateful step in Indiana… This is a moment of reckoning for the Republican Party. It’s incumbent on its leadership to account for the failures and betrayals that led to this, and find a better way to address them than the demagogy on offer. Republican leaders have for years failed to think about much of anything beyond winning the next election….That Mr. Trump was able to enthrall voters by promising simply to make American great again—but offering only xenophobic, isolationist or fantastical ideas—is testimony to how thoroughly they reject the politicians who betrayed them. Now myopic as ever, Republican leaders are talking themselves into supporting Mr. Trump.” Of Hillary Clinton, the paper said: “Our endorsement is rooted in respect for her intellect, toughness, experience and courage”, in an editorial captioned, “Hillary for President.” The New York Times wrote another editorial with the headline:”Why Donald Trump should not be President.”
Reviewing Mr. Trump’s 100 first 100 days Los Angeles Times says the most worrisome of Mr. Trump’s Presidency is Trump’s unpredictable and reckless behaviour and that “nothing prepared us for the magnitude of this train wreck.”
The relationship has become so combustible only waiting for a cigarette end to start off a conflagration. Take for example a Press conference during which the President Trump exposed himself as not telling the truth. Here is the report of the event: Hero reporter fired the President: “Mr. President, you just said your victory of 306 electoral votes to 232 is the largest margin since President Reagan’s victory. In fact, President Obama won in 2008 with 365 electoral votes to 173. My question is why should the American people trust you regarding fake news when you yourself are providing false information?” Mr. Trump caught pants down, said: “I am just giving the information I have.” The media then said to Trump that he won 304 electoral votes, and fewer than Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Mr. George W. Bush. “I was given that information, I don’t know,” he said crest fallen. While admitting that leaks about his inner workings were “real”, Trump went on to say “the news is fake.”
Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois said he spent months never believing that Mr. Trump would be elected president adding that from his office in Capitol Hill where he can see workers constructing the stage for Mr. trump’s inauguration he said to himself: “I sincerely hope that the office makes the man.”
The next 265 days will tell! We would know if the fears of the Press against which Mr. Trump is railing are justified.
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