Politics & Policy

Donald Trump vs. the Media

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump looks out from inside an elevator (Reuters: Mike Segar)
Fighting against the sleaze

The CNN hype of the farrago of scatological nonsense about the president-elect and the Russian government ends the pre-inaugural interlude on an all-time triumph of media unprofessionalism, malice, and outright idiocy, by the most bigoted of all large American news outlets. The ne plus ultra in this steady, hand-over-hand climb to a summit of irresponsibility was achieved with the airing of a 35page dossier of alleged Russian involvement with Trump and in harassments of the Clinton campaign. In it, many Russian officials, from Vladimir Putin down, are named, but almost no Americans are, except for an alleged Trump executive, which quickly proved to have been a case of mistaken or invented identity.

The dossier contained a very lengthy recitation of meetings and vaguely outlined initiatives, running the gamut from leaks designed to smear Clinton, to claims of possession of material that could be used to blackmail Trump because of louche or perverted sexual activity. Mercifully, there was one specific incident that will render this hideous canard unforgettable, a scarlet letter to its promoters: that Donald Trump engaged a group of Russian prostitutes to urinate in a bed allegedly occupied in a Moscow luxury hotel some years before by Mr. and Mrs. Obama. This was the Golden Gate, the Golden Shower, the perfect symbol of the demented media assault on the president-elect.

For such a curtain call in Inauguration Week, it was appropriate to provide the most deserving players: perhaps the most famous Buffalonian since Grover Cleveland, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, who looks like he lives from paycheck to paycheck as a cameo visual impersonator of Victor Hugo, announced the “breaking news” of this inane file that had been bouncing around, beneath the notice of anyone except the scurrilous leftist “news” outlet BuzzFeed, for months. CNN’s Washington bureau chief, Jake Tapper, joined Blitzer in crackling on about this “exclusive,” supplemented by Michael Morell, a former CIA official who now works for a strategic advisory firm run by ex-Hillary Clinton aide Philippe Reines. Then came James Sciutto, “chief national-security correspondent” for CNN, who trumpeted “an enormous team effort by my colleagues . . . at CNN.” Admittedly, slogging through the unsubstantiated, vaguely formulated filth and skulduggery the CNN team picked up with a few digital clicks from BuzzFeed, an act approximating a couple of rabid raccoons’ scooping feces out of a garbage can, could be described as “an immense team effort” for people with any taste or professional integrity.

But the pièce de résistance waited its turn in the wings, and Tapper unveiled “the legendary Carl Bernstein,” to bestow credence on this malignant asininity. Still subsisting from the proceeds of the Nixon character-assassination, disbelieved even by his editor, Ben Bradlee (which did not prevent Bradlee from collecting his share of the journalism awards Watergate deluged on its perpetrators), Bernstein is a semi-extinct volcano. He led whomever watches CNN through a tangle of anonymous people: a former British intelligence agent, Washington research firms opposed to Trump, Russians who had dealt with Trump, and Russian sources for the report, all anonymous, but diligently uncovered, said Bernstein, rather than simply fabricated and published by BuzzFeed. Plus ça change. Let us take heart: Bernstein is forgotten, except at CNN, Richard Nixon (as I mentioned here last week) will never die.

Tapper and Bernstein alternated in working up apparent, implicit confirmations of sources that were firming up. (Wolf Blitzer worked for me when my associates and I owned the Jerusalem Post. When he quit us for a richer offer at CNN, I suspected he would get pretty far down-market when he asked me to give him a departure bonus for enhancing the Post’s prestige by moving to a larger employer. I always salute ambition, am inured to greed, but presenting unverified slander as enterprising journalism is not how we did it, in Jerusalem or elsewhere.) It seems obvious enough that the intelligence services tried to smear Trump, presumably with the encouragement of the outgoing administration, and one of America’s lowest media outlets finally took the bait. This was amplified by “an enormous team effort” at CNN, fluffed up by the benedictions of the hind-legs of the most egregious pantomime horse of myth-making in Washington history.

The reaction to Donald Trump’s January 11 news conference, in which he attacked BuzzFeed and CNN and declined to answer a question from a CNN reporter, varied from general public approval, even with some reservations about the president-elect’s rugged and brusque vocabulary, and the New York Times’s view that the media had to be more astute in their war on Trump. On January 12, Jim Rutenberg said in the Times that the takeaways on the news conference were that 1) “Mr. Trump remains a master media manipulator” who had managed to “delegitimize the news media and make it the story, rather than the chaotic swirl of ethical questions that engulf his transition” (as if the incoming president had purloined the Golden Shower dossier and planted it under Wolf Blitzer and Carl Bernstein’s noses) and 2) “the news media remains an unwitting accomplice in its own diminishment”: “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.”

I read on with insatiable disbelief; this was the newspaper that had apologized, through its publisher and its editor, for its biased coverage of the election, two days after the Trump victory, and here it was commending BuzzFeed for putting out a story that “many news organizations, including this one, had [had] for months.” The danger was that “Mr. Trump’s ‘fake news’ charge against CNN, in front of many millions of Americans, went directly at the network’s core purpose as a global news provider.” Bingo, Mr. Rutenberg; that’s just what it did. Most people who see a lot of the media and are reasonably discerning don’t trust the media and think their core purpose is to deceive, misinform, and mold public opinion in an underinformed way to suit the groupthink of the mainstream media’s principal personalities. This was the downside of the theory of the husband of my dear late friend Kay Graham, of the Washington Post, of “the rough first draft of history.”

Will Rahn of CBS had it right on November 10 when he wrote of the “unbearable smugness of the press” and predicted that the response of the media to the Trump victory would not be that most Trump supporters were not fascistic imbeciles, racists, and chauvinists, but rather that there were a good many more such “deplorables” in the country than the media had imagined. Filmmaker Ken Burns, who has had a reputation of wholesome fairness, told a Stanford commencement address in June that Trump was a menace to democracy, and railed against the “troubling unfiltered Tourette’s of his tribalism.” On October 20, with the candidates neck and neck, he told the inevitable CNN that the election “was an existential moment for the United States of America . . . the greatest threat since the Cuban Missile Crisis and World War II.” Trump was using “the National Socialist playbook” and “the dog whistles of race and immigration.” He accused Trump of inciting mob rule and group hate, and of being an uncontrollably immature and deranged personality who threatened “216 years” of peaceful political transition.”

Burns seems not to have been reassured that Trump had not committed one electoral irregularity at the polls or in the submission of nominees for confirmation after the election. Burns’s abilities as a filmmaker are not at issue, but it was clear from his attempted homogenization of the Roosevelts in his documentary about them, his avoidance of the most insightful biographers of FDR, and his adoption of the feminist bunk that Eleanor was virtually a co-president, that in the uniquely complicated process of choosing a president, he was a technically sophisticated but intellectually stunted, undiscriminatingly hypersensitive sophomore. Meryl Streep sounded the same theme in accepting a Golden Globe award recently and fulminating about Trump being a xenophobic disparager of the handicapped. The mockery of the handicapped was one of the many incidents misinterpreted and amplified by the New York Times.

Of course, Trump is not a xenophobe, racist, sexist, chauvinist, or ungracious man, though he is bumptious, egocentric, and often infelicitous. If he were the carrier of the contagion of any such reprehensible characteristics as Burns and Streep, in their overwrought, quasi-artistic earnestness, impute to him, he could not have won the primaries — fair and square and though vastly outspent — of the Republican party, nor have won the election against a qualified candidate with a very large following who was supported by 90 percent of the American media and 95 percent of the vocal entertainment community.

The real message is that they all failed: both parties, the Bushes, Clintons, and Obamas, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, McCain, and Romney. Ronald Reagan left the country the world’s only superpower, prosperous, united, and content, set at the head of a respectful and grateful alliance. Then, as happens in the lives of great nations and empires, unchallenged by obvious threats, decay advances quickly on hairy, scurrying feet. The mountebanks of the global-warming fraud assaulted energy production and capitalism generally. These were not legitimate conservationists and vigilant environmentalists; they were frauds, demanding, for pseudoscientific reasons, the elimination of carbon use. The political landscape was also swarmed by the dopey-dreamy believers in the borderless state; the rich lefties, from the cleverest — Warren Buffett, padding around in corduroy trousers and a Viyella shirt asking that his taxes be raised while opening his pockets to receive the largesse of the Obama regime — to the dumbest, the physically well-favored Hollywood airheads and cokeheads calling for social justice while neglecting to pay the minimum wage to migrant aliens rolling their tennis courts and mowing their lawns. They became the iron-clad, locked-arm conventional wisdom.

This is a national deliverance and the resurrection of Norman Rockwell’s virtuous America.

They did not notice the 12 million illegal immigrants; the sleaziest pay-to-play operation of the federal government in American history; endless stupid Middle Eastern wars, in which the military were brilliant and the political leaders expanded the power of Iran while generating an immense humanitarian crisis; the worldwide economic debacle generated by the officially sponsored U.S. housing bubble; or that the U.S has become a worldwide foreign-policy laughingstock, a condition highlighted by John Kerry’s using the last week in which the taxpayers foot the bill for his travel to return to Vietnam, where he had falsely claimed to be a war hero, and betrayed the country and his comrades.

It has all been such a painful national scenario, and Donald Trump responded so unsubtly to the failure of the system — the presidential candidates, the Congress, the media, the bright people from Hollywood to Wall Street — that what is about to happen will not be seen, for a while yet, as the national deliverance and the resurrection of Norman Rockwell and Walt Disney’s virtuous America that it is. And most of the media and Hollywood will not be seen as the whipped jackals that they are. But what Wolf Blitzer and Carl Bernstein reported, and Ken Burns and Meryl Streep feared, has been averted. God bless America and its new leader, this 58th quadrennial Inauguration Day.  

— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, and Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership


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