CNBC John Harwood, Im-Politic, Mainstream Media, Margaret Sullivan, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Trump, White House Correspondents Association, White House Correspondents' Association Dinner
The pre-Trump era version of myself would be heartily applauding part of Margaret Sullivan’s recommendation for the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. According to the Washington Post media columnist, this event, “should be the last. It never has been a particularly good idea for journalists to don their fanciest clothes and cozy up to the people they cover, alongside Hollywood celebrities who have ventured to wonky Washington to join the fun.”
The post-Trump era version of myself is more struck by this follow-on Sullivan observation: that nowadays, the event
“has become close to suicidal for the press’s credibility.
“Trust in the mainstream media is low, a new populism has caught fire all over the Western world, and President Trump constantly pounds the news media as a bunch of out-of-touch elites who don’t represent the interests of real Americans.
“The annual dinner — or at least the optics of the dinner — seems to back him up.”
In fact, that points to the reason that I believe and hope the dinner continues: as Sullivan and other defenders of the establishment press indignantly insist that this stereotype is at best completely inaccurate at best and at worst a malicious lie spread by figures – like the President – who hope to destroy this pillar of democracy.
But since the 2016 presidential campaign began in earnest, nothing has been clearer than how the mainstream media’s hostility to Mr. Trump has stemmed from far more than dismay about his personal vulgarity or from journalists’ legitimate concerns about his personal business and possible conflicts of interest. (By contrast, in my view, for reasons described here, the Russia collusion charges look manufactured.) The President’s harsh coverage has also resulted from his strong opposition to the longstanding elite consensus on trade, immigration, and foreign policies that too often have put Main Street Americans last, but that the national media has swallowed hook, line, and sinker.
Indeed, these reporters and editors and pundits have repeatedly hanged themselves with their own words. Remember CNBC’s John Harwood asking Mr. Trump at an October, 2015 Republican candidates’ debate if he was running “a comic book version of a presidential campaign”? Remember The New York Times‘ publisher acknowledging after the Trump victory that such dismissive (at best) views so pervaded the newspaper’s campaign coverage that it needed to “rededicate itself” to the “fundamental mission of Times journalist. That is, to report America and the world honestly…”?
How nice it would be to report that the Mainstream Media has learned some lessons and changed its tune, or at least its smug posture. But no one who’s literate, who follows many Big Media journalists on Twitter, or who watches the vast majority of news talk shows, could possibly see any progress. In news coverage, the treatment of major issues continues following the apparent rule that the only valid – or indeed, sane – position to take is the one opposite of the President’s. On the televised talk shows, this Trump Derangement Syndrome continues to be invariably accompanied by non-stop sniggering, chortling, and raised eyebrows seem just as common as ever.
So please, White House Correspondents’ Association! Keep holding this so-called “Nerd Prom” (the favorite, false modesty-dripping insider nickname for the event)! In fact, double down on the current format! Keep booking hate-mongering comedians/ennes! Keep hobnobbing with virtue-signaling celebrities! Keep looking like courtiers rather than watchdogs!
In other words, keep taking every opportunity to remind the public how completely you’ve merged with the comfortable you’re supposed to be afflicting! Keep sinking your own credibility beyond repair! And as a result, keep hastening the day when you’ll be replaced by the kind of press corps a healthy democracy needs.