Fox News Channel’s Howard Kurtz spoke with Breitbart News Senior Editors-at-Large Rebecca Mansour and Joel Pollak on Wednesday’s Breitbart News Tonight and rejected narratives framing President Donald Trump as a threat to First Amendment protections for a free press.
Pollak asked Kurtz if Trump is a threat to constitutional protections for a free press.
“This question is behind a lot of the media criticism of Trump and what he says about the media,” said Pollak. “The idea that he’s somehow a threat to the First Amendment … about freedom of the press. Is Donald Trump a threat to the freedom of the press when he criticizes the press?”
“No,” replied Kurtz. “He is exercising his right to freedom of speech. I understand the knee-jerk reaction. You work for the New York Times, and he’s calling your newspaper evil. You don’t like it. You work for CNN, and he’s saying it’s a fake news network. You don’t like that. I get that. We’re human beings, although we’re not supposed to let that influence our coverage. Politicians attack us all the time, although not with the vehemence of Donald Trump.”
Former President Barack Obama had undermined constitutional protections for a free press, said Kurtz, pointing to surveillance of news media figures, including former Fox News reporter James Rosen, authorized by the Obama administration as illustrative of his point.
“You know who actually did a lot of harm to the First Amendment?” asked Kurtz. “It was Barack Obama when he allowed his Justice Department to conduct secret surveillance of my former Fox colleague James Rosen of the Associated Press, getting emails and phone calls, unindicted co-conspirator in leak cases. We haven’t seen that from President Trump. He’s used his words. He’s used his Twitter account. He’s used his bully pulpit. Now, I think at times, he has done that in order to bait the press into attacking him … in an attempt to discredit the press. The idea that we get to beat up on everybody and then we get to recoil in horror when people are taking us on, it shows a pretty thin skin on the part of at least some of my colleagues.”
Broad hostility from the news media towards Trump is not entirely ideologically rooted, said Kurtz. “I think there is something about Donald Trump’s style – his street fighting style as president, the way he sort of shatters the norms, the way he takes on the press, calling out news organizations and journalists by name – that simply gets under their skin, that offends them.”
Pollak asked Kurtz if news media figures resent “being used” by Trump.
“One theory is that the media resent that Trump uses them,” said Pollak. “He’s able to get his message out through them. He’s able to get them to focus on whatever tweet he’s put out that day or whatever content he’s made, and they have higher ratings as a result of whatever he’s doing. It draws viewers. It creates controversy. So he gets his message out for free, essentially. In the past, in presidential campaigns, candidates had to buy a lot of advertising to get the kind of coverage that Trump just gets for free. So in a sense, he’s using them and undermining their business model, to some extent, and then trashing them. So there’s a kind of resentment of being used. What do you think about that?”
News media figures do resent Trump’s ability to shape dominant narratives across the news cycle, said Kurtz.
“Negative coverage helps Donald Trump,” said Kurtz. “It means he dominates the agenda … and there is some resentment [from the media] about that. Day after day, with a single tweet, he can have us spending a month debating the NFL protests or something else. Sometimes he does that because he’s ticked off. Sometimes he does that as a matter of strategy. Sometimes he does it as a matter of counterpunching against what he thinks is unfair coverage.”
News media figures hostile to Trump inadvertently afford him political advantages by animating the president’s base of supporters, said Kurtz.
“People out there who continue to passionately support this president, when the media beat up on him, they feel like he’s their street fighter,” said Kurtz. “They don’t care if occasionally he exaggerates or he doesn’t choose his words carefully like most politicians. They think the elite media look down on them and condescend toward them, and this reminds them of that when Trump and the press go at it.”
CNN’s Brian Stelter has repeatedly framed Trump as a threat to the First Amendment’s protections for a free press, implying that the president’s criticisms of assorted news media outlets are somehow violative of the Constitution. He has also framed comedic animated memes posted on Trump’s Twitter profile as incitements to criminal violence and harassment.
Breitbart News Tonight airs Monday through Friday on SiriusXM’s Patriot channel 125 from 9:00 p.m. to midnight Eastern (6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Pacific).
Follow Robert Kraychik on Twitter @rkraychik.