Virgil: Donald Trump vs. the Main Stream Media: The President-elect is Beating the Press, But More Combat Is Coming

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First of Two Parts…

Most members of the Main Stream Media like to think of themselves as peace-loving.  And so, as part of their mellow feelings toward the planet, MSM-ers enjoy shopping at Whole Foods; indeed, many are so refined in their thinking that they are vegans.  So of course they support gun control, oppose the death penalty and the Pentagon budget, and pride themselves on voting for pro-“peace” candidates.  And yet when it comes right down to it, in their own line of work, they are plenty militant, even warlike.  And that goes double if the target is Donald Trump.


Yes, if Trump is in the picture, then journos easily slip into the language, and the thinking, of combat and war.  This makes sense, because, for better or for worse, the vocabulary of fighting suffuses everyday speech, and “nice” reporters are no exception.  In particular, when humans wish to organize themselves to do something, they tend to adopt military forms; the word “campaign,” for example, was used to describe military operations long before it was used to describe political operations.

A case in point is the headline that appeared in the hard-copy of the January 13 edition of The New York Times: “Outgunned, Outmaneuvered and in Need of a Game Plan.”  Later, perhaps at the prodding of gun-control groups, that headline was softened to, “As Trump Berates News Media, a New Strategy Is Needed to Cover Him”  Still, the word “strategy” is there in the header, reaching, as it does, deep into military history. 

We might pause to note that the piece was written by the Times’ media columnist, Jim Rutenberg, who, from his lofty journalistic perch, has emerged as the dean of anti-Trump press-punditry.  Back in August, Rutenberg wrote that it was time for journalists to junk the idea of being unbiased about Trump and instead move “closer to being oppositional.”  Translated, reporters should now feel liberated to call Trump any name they can think of, including liar—and the MSM has done just that, of course, with gusto.  

More recently, in that January 13 column, Rutenberg warned his readers that Trump, “a master media manipulator,” was winning the battle against the press.  That is, the President-elect had been using his power to “expertly delegitimize the news media,” thus changing the subject from his own record to the media’s record.  Seeing a serious problem as a result, Rutenberg added:

The news media remains an unwitting accomplice in its own diminishment as it fails to get a handle on how to cover this new and wholly unprecedented president.

Could Trump really be doing all that?  It sure looks that way.  After all, if the MSM is waging war on Trump, Trump is also waging war on the MSM.  Indeed, we might add, Trump is doing a better job—he’s winning.  And why is he winning?  Because he’s smarter and tougher. 

Most obviously, there’s Trump’s Twitter feed, which now numbers 20 million followers.  As he has said, possessing an audience that big is like owning The New York Times, only without the financial losses.  Moreover, including all forms of social media, his audience totals some 50 million.  And yet even that big number understates his impact, because his messages always echo in the news.  It’s fair to say that even before Trump is inaugurated as president, he has proven that when he wants to get a point across, everyone in the country gets it.   

So here we might be tempted to interpolate the wisdom of the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, who declared, “He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.” And Trump has been prepared.  

And yes, sheer gumption matters, too.  It was Trump the man who stared down Megyn Kelly, the Pope, all his Republican rivals, and Hillary Clinton.  And most recently, Trump won the confrontation over the “dirty dossier,” the passel of allegations leaked by the “Intelligence Community” last week and published, in all its inglorious non-detail detail, by BuzzFeed.  

In his January 11 press conference, held in the middle of the resulting media firestorm, Trump showed no fear as he took on virtually the entire press corps.  He denied all the allegations, adding that reporters should be ashamed of themselves for even thinking of bringing up such an unverified opposition-research dump.  He refused to take a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta, labeling the entire network as “fake news,” and he lambasted BuzzFeed as a “failing pile of garbage.”  

And in fact, soon the MSM was scampering away from the dossier; investigative-reporting legend Bob Woodward agreed with Trump, calling it a “garbage document.”  And then, on Twitter, Trump hit back even harder, comparing the attack on him to some sort of atrocity out of Nazi Germany.

Needless to say, this turn of events has been disturbing to diehard Trump haters such as Rutenberg.  As he wrote to his brothers and sisters in the Fourth Estate, the next time they were going to do battle with Trump, they had to have a stronger plan.  And speaking of the MSM as a whole, Rutenberg added, “It better figure things out, fast, because it has found itself at the edge of the cliff.” 

In the meantime, amidst the MSM disarray, Trump is still on the offensive.  Here’s the headline from the January 15 New York Times: Trump Team Considers Moving Press Corps, Alarming Reporters.”  That is, the Trump communications shop is considering a plan to move the White House press corps from its current location in the West Wing to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  In the words of Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary:

While no decisions have been made, there is enormous interest in covering Donald Trump.  The current briefing room only has 49 seats, so we have looked at rooms within the White House to conduct briefings that have additional capacity.

Spicer makes a good point: In a country of 320 million people, plus the rest of the world, why should just 49 individuals get the privilege of sitting in on press briefings?  Why not move to a location that would enable more reporters to participate? Isn’t that what freedom is all about? 

Needless to say, the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) doesn’t agree. It’s an insider club; it doesn’t like the prospect of opening its doors to new competition, not one little bit. 

And even though the possible new location in the EEOB is less than 100 feet away from the West Wing, it is, as far as the MSM is concerned, an exile to Siberia.  (And never mind the fact that until the 1890s, reporters didn’t have regular access to the White House at all; back then, they had to stand around outside the building. And yet, somehow, the First Amendment survived.)

In the meantime, one could even say that the WHCA is “up in arms” over this possible relocation; attendance at its meetings has tripled, as reporters “march toward the sound of the guns.” 

In the meantime, as the Battle of the Briefing Room is being waged, the MSM has just scored a victory of its own.  On Monday, Monica Crowley, slated to be the communications point-person for the National Security Council, announced that she would not, after all, be joining the Trump administration.  Crowley had been barraged by revelations from CNN that seemed to indicate repeated incidents of plagiarism.   As The New Republic cheered, “This also creates a fresh incentive for both journalists and Congress to keep investigating Trump’s nominees.”

So yes, although the MSM has taken some hard punches of late, it still has the ability to punch back.  It’s a war, of attack and counter-attack.  Or, as Virgil used to say in olden times, et ferrum iterum ferrum.

This struggle is likely to go on for as long as Trump is president, although Breitbart readers, of course, tutored in #WAR, know that the fight is never-ending. 

Yet at the moment, with the right resurgent and the left lurching, it’s the MSM, as Rutenberg suggests, that is most in need of self-examination—as a prelude, it can hope, to better strategizing in the future.  And so the MSM is doing just that, carrying on its informal planning sessions over casual coffee, through morning conference calls, via e-mail list-servs and message boards, in op-eds, and, of course, at myriad university- and foundation-funded seminars and conferences.  

Who knows if all this cogitation will produce a better strategy or not; all we know for sure is that the MSM is waging a robust debate with itself, trying hard to come up with better answers than it has had in the past. 

Oh, and one other thing we know for sure: The objective is, always, to destroy Donald Trump. 


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