Last summer, former President Donald Trump reached out to the assorted professors who were authoring a “first draft of history” biography of his administration for Princeton University Press. He met with them, providing access to his thoughts on various crucial issues that affected his time in office, and concluded by telling the historians, “I hope it’s going to be a No. 1 best seller.”
The book came out this month. A review at Foreign Policy magazine tells you all you need to know: “Just a cursory glance at the chapter headings brings home the extreme nature of Trump’s presidency: ‘Militant Whiteness in the Age of Trump,’ ‘The Crisis of Truth in the Age of Trump,’ ‘”Nut Job,” “Scumbag,” and “Fool”: How Trump Tried to Deconstruct the FBI and the Administrative State — and Almost Succeeded.'”
“I think one of the things I would do differently is that I found the media is so corrupt, that I would really not focus on them almost at all – I just focus on getting the job done for the American people,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity on April 13. It’s a mystery why he ever persisted in the effort for so long, given the unhidden bias and open contempt the dominant media and the communications apparatus in this country have unflinchingly displayed towards him since 2015.
It’s an Achilles’ Heel for Trump. Being of his generation, he can’t let go of the idea that big-brand media outlets, publishing houses and universities are major difference-makers, even as Americans under the age of 60 – more and more of them with each passing day – consider these institutions a joke.
Personal Letter to a ‘Rigged’ Network
In March, Trump made headlines for writing a three-page letter to NBC News correspondent Lester Holt in advance of Holt’s interview with his former attorney general Bill Barr. While Trump was trying to get ahead of Barr’s attacks on him as laid out in a new book, for his supporters, a bigger question immediately sprang to mind: Why is Trump appealing to Lester Holt for a fair hearing?
Did the former president not realize that Barr was getting the splashy network interview treatment precisely because he would be criticizing him? Trump has had multiple negative interactions with Holt in the past, yet puzzlingly he still deemed it important to “set the record straight” with a reporter who had no interest in doing any such thing.
Trump ripped Holt’s role as moderator of the first presidential debate with Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016. “I had to put up with the anchor and fight the anchor on everything I said. What a rigged deal, I tell you, we are in such a rigged system — it is terrible. What’s going on in this country is so sad,” he said at a campaign rally afterward.
In 2018, Trump upped the ante, accusing Holt of deceptively manipulating a video of him explaining why he fired FBI Director James Comey in an attempt to damage him. “When Lester Holt got caught fudging my tape on Russia, they were hurt badly!” Trump said.
Trump has delivered especially harsh words against Holt’s August 2021 interview with Capitol Police Lt. Michael Byrd, who shot and killed an unarmed Ashli Babbitt during the Jan. 6 unrest at the US Capitol.
Holt served up one softball question after another to Byrd in a segment overwhelmingly framed to back up his narrative. “Capitol Police in their press release after exonerating you said your actions potentially saved members and staff from serious injury and possible death. What was it like to hear those words, to see those words?” Holt asked Byrd at one point.
“I think it’s a disgrace, and in fact, they wanted to shield him. But he couldn’t get on television fast enough,” Trump told Newsmax TV on Feb 1. “I saw his interview, and he thinks it was great that he shot her and killed her, and she didn’t have a gun. She didn’t have anything. There was no reason to do that.”
‘Fairness Is Overrated’
“On March 30, while accepting an award at the 45th Murrow Symposium, Holt admitted that he believes reporters should decide for themselves – and presumably for their audience – what is true and what is fact, and then quite simply disregard everything else …
“‘I think it’s become clear that fairness is overrated,’ Holt said before going on to elaborate. ‘The idea that we should always give two sides equal weight and merit does not reflect the world we find ourselves in.’”
Amazingly, the university historians’ biases were similarly unconcealed. Trump must have known what he would be in for, yet he still extended a hand that was bound to be slapped in return.
The New York Times previewed the planned book in March 2021, more than a full year before its release. The article contained an astonishing quote from one of the intellectuals involved in the project. SMU professor Jeffrey Engel told The Times of his initial discomfort with the frank anti-Trump diatribes of his fellow writers in drafts of their chapters that he had read.
“There were points in these papers I would read a sentence and say, ‘Oh my God!’” Engel exclaimed. “But then I’d say, ‘I agree.’ The ways that we can express our own anger while still being accurate is symbolic of the unprecedented nature of this presidency.”
If he does run for the White House again in 2024, will Trump finally understand that expecting even-handed treatment from the credentialed professionals of the ruling establishment is a hopeless wish?