Now that Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the United States the longstanding battle between the media and the businessman-turned-politician is likely to advance into a full-scale war. So, it may be worthwhile to determine the offensive and nuclear capabilities of each side. Not to mention that unlike real war, this one should be enormously entertaining. Witness the initial press briefing (actually, it was a beat down) with Press Secretary Sean Spicer one day after the inauguration.
The media went absolutely ballistic after Spicer argued with their continual reports of low crowd size at the inauguration. And he took issue with the false report that a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. had been removed from the oval office. The establishment media then spent the next two days calling Spicer and the new administration liars and taking great offense. The media whining and sniveling proceeded ad nauseam. But the question remains — who really wins this one in the end?
If past is prologue, the President will utilize the time-honored battle plan of divide et impera – divide and conquer, or as some put it – divide and rule. Long attributed to Philip II of Macedon, this technique “is meant to empower the sovereign to control” by preventing rival or enemy groups from linking together by “causing rivalries and fomenting discord.”
So far, this strategy has worked seamlessly on the press as it doesn’t take much to create rivalries and foment discord between news outlets. They’re excellent at accomplishing this all by themselves. But with a little shove from Trump, this simple strategy may prove to be enormously helpful in gaining the upper hand.
Not surprisingly, Machiavelli used this as a military principle to weaken allied forces into bite-sized armies that could be picked off one-by-one. This technique was employed and superbly executed a couple of weeks ago, when Trump held a news conference. On the heels of an unsubstantiated report published by BuzzFeed, Trump used the opportunity to shut down CNN reporter Jim Acosta. Why pick on CNN? Trump and several of his surrogates indicated that the cable news outlet was culpable in a recent BuzzFeed report, according to FOX News media analyst Howard Kurtz:
The furor began Tuesday when anchor Jake Tapper said the following: “A CNN exclusive. CNN has learned that the nation’s top intelligence officials provided information to President-elect Donald Trump and to President Barack Obama last week about claims of Russian efforts to compromise President-elect Trump.”
The CNN decision to run this teaser without detail was all BuzzFeed needed to convince editors to run the black ops report. Most media outlets had been sitting on this information for months, but none had found a way to get it into the public square — mostly because of its incendiary nature and array of unsubstantiated material.
Of course, to those who back the President, this was an egregious example of media bias. But even broadcast outlets who have displayed hostility toward Trump in the past sharpened their knives to carve up BuzzFeed publicly. A prime example was this interview in which MSNBC’s Chuck Todd took BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith to task, as reported in The Hill:
“I know this was not your intent,” Todd told BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith during a segment on MSNBC’s “MTP Daily,” adding, “I’ve known you a long time, but you just published fake news. You made a knowing decision to put out an untruth.”
Even Fox Business News Anchor Neil Cavuto couldn’t stop himself from a little schadenfreude, as outlined by ZeroHedge, when he said the following on air:
Over the past 8 years, on a continuous basis, the liberal media has impugned the integrity of the only conservative news outlet in the country (Fox) — laughing and smirking while President Obama kicked them in the shins. Now that Trump refused a question from a reporter at CNN, which was punishment for publishing some very damaging information about him that wasn’t true or fact checked, CNN is crying ‘unfair’, causing their supporters to accuse Trump of (wait for it) FASCISM. There’s a double standard being pressed here by CNN, wanting to be treated fairly while at the same time being shameful in their own conduct.
Media Columnist Jim Rutenberg, with The Gray Lady, used the opportunity to issue a brief homily to the press-at-large:
- The news media remains an unwitting accomplice on its own diminishment as it fails to get a handle on how to cover this new and wholly unprecedented president.
It better figure things out, fast, because it has found itself at the edge of the cliff. And our still-functioning (fingers crossed) democracy needs it to stay on the right side of the drop.
While the media spent a good two or three days eating its own, Trump’s divide and conquer strategy proved to be a valuable arrow in his quiver. It is a weapon he is likely to employ again and again. Even New York Times’ author Maureen Dowd calls Trump’s view of the press pugilistic. That sounds about right. So, why change what works?
The press, meanwhile, has employed the ineffective strategy of whining. Media whining is not new. Ever since Donald Trump entered the political scene, they’ve been carrying on endlessly. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough continually whines about Trump’s tweeting. And he’s hardly alone. The news media detests tweeting because it removes much of their control. So, Trump uses it to tweak them over and over. And they fall for it every time. When — they bark, loudly and often — will Trump stop tweeting?!? At this rate, never.
Along those lines, CNN reporter Jim Acosta complained to Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer about his run-in with Trump at the news conference and wound up sounding a little like Eddie Haskell ratting out The Beaver, on that iconic TV show, Leave it to Beaver. “Mrs. Cleaver, did you know that Sean Spicer told me he was going to throw me out the next time I pulled a stunt like that?”
The one thing the American public detests is a tattle-tale.
And so, it’s game-on, or World War III if you like, between the new President and the news media. From Buzzfeed to the MLK statue in the Oval office, Trump has determined that the best defense is an offense in terms of the press. It feels as if he’s playing chess and they are playing checkers.
If Vegas were taking odds right now, it would be thirty-to-one – a true longshot – for the press to come out ahead on this one. That is unless they learn from their mistakes and choose another tactic. After all, whining is never a winning strategy.
Until they get that, I’m putting my money on the President.