President declares ‘war’ on Fourth Estate

On his first day in office, President Trump issued a declaration of war.

It was not a declaration of war against a foreign government. It was a declaration of war against a branch of the U.S. government, the unofficial but constitutionally protected fourth branch, the press.

During a speech at CIA headquarters, our new president said, “I have a running war with the media.”

He was piqued because of press reports that the crowds for his inauguration was reported at lower numbers than those for the two Obama inaugurations. After 20 years in newsrooms, let me observe that crowd estimation is a very imprecise undertaking. It is not a science; they vary widely.

Of those reporting lower crowd numbers, he added, “They’re going to pay big time.”

His press secretary Sean Spicer used numbers from ridership on the Washington D.C. subway to refute the Trump-Obama crowd comparisons. But he used the wrong numbers. Here are the ridership numbers dug out by the Wall Street Journal: Friday for Trump’s inauguration, 570,557; for Obama’s 2013 inauguration, 782,000; and 1.1 million for the 2009 Obama event.

Nonetheless, it’s not that big a deal either way. Who cares? Only a person who cares way down deep about ratings, an entertainer, would care enough to declare war on the media that counted lesser numbers. Further, most entertainers would not make a big deal of the different counts.

Since I compiled 105 valid reasons to vote against the real estate mogul during his campaign for the Oval Office, and failed to convince enough people to do so, even in my home Washington County, I called a timeout between his election and his inauguration

I wanted to keep an open mind about his performance as president. Words, especially his words, mean little. I choose to watch his feet. But it’s not that words mean nothing.

In the case of the Fourth Estate, his war of words with the press is complicated. Many would agree that he played the mainstream press like a fiddle during the campaign. He used social media to turn them inside out. In their confusion, they gave him unending headlines, and his notoriety played well with enough factions to get him elected.

So, the media helped mightily to get him elected. Instead of gratitude, he chooses to continue to use reporters and editors as a piñata. “Dishonest” reporters are his straw men.

I have been on both sides of government, having served as a newsman and as a press aide to a cabinet member in the first Nixon Administration, and I can assure you that the government has only partial interest in telling the whole truth about matters of state. Only the press can get out a semblance of the whole story.

I have known hundreds of reporters, both as their manager and as someone reported on in business and politics. They are paid poorly, so most of them do it because it is their calling. I have only known a few who were unreliable or dishonest.

None of them are perfect. They all have biases as they approach a story, whether they admit it or not. But most of American reporters try to filter out their own points of view. They are trained to be accurate, but do make an occasional mistake. Most media sources correct their mistakes.

Pundits, columnists, talk show hosts and editorial writers, of course, express a point of view. Trump has his views, and they have theirs. Some support him on some issues, and many oppose him. That’s the dialog of a democracy. He is not a king or emperor.

But Trump’s war is seldom with the opinion writers. It is usually with work-a-day reporters or interviewers just trying to get a story straight.

From what we have seen so far, those reporters are going to have a tough four years digging out the reality of what is going on in the president’s head.

If they start taking more hits from President Trump and a running war really ensues, I am on the side of the reporters. I’ll get a far straighter story from them than him.

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  • Dick Klass

    An excellent, professional analysis with the proper conclusion. The press will have the last word, especially if the Administration continues to rely on “alternative facts.”

    • Bob Dohnal

      Trump will have last word cause 74% do not believe the MSMedia anymore. Years back, no way to strike back. You are all living in George Will’s world. He is gone.
      So is Sykes.

      • JohnTorinus

        It must be comforting, Bob, to have such a clear view of what is going to happen.
        Funny, as have gotten as old as you, I have developed more questions than answers.

        • Bob Dohnal

          Worse John, you are agreeing with me. tut Tut. Before you get old and smart you must be young and stupid.

      • Bill Kraus

        David Brooks column today suggests that its time to revive the parties as their moderate former selves. But they lost their leverage in the wake of the Watergate reforms which took away their more or less exclusive role to slate, fund, and manage campaigns. The money got loose, and their power went with it—ala WEAC in Wisconsin. We are beyond who and what into how. All I know for sure is that the reform organizations are NOT the how.

      • colin scanes

        George Will is one of the most thoughtful conservative writers.

  • Bill Kraus

    All the rules we lived by are disappearing. The latest to go is “never get into a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” A democracy without the 4th estate riding herd on those who abuse power with secrecy and spin cannot thrive, may not survive. Yes it’s that important.

    • Bob Dohnal

      So,Bill just accept what they say?? Baloney, everyone has the ability, and the right, to strike back now. Dreyfus: “Kick me, I kick back”. Did you write that?

  • Doug Swanson

    The problem is that “the press” doesn’t exist any more. It’s too fragmented and to much influenced by opinion. The mainstream media has been attacked for decades, and that war is over – they lost. Until respected members of his own party, and preferably ones that appeal to the same voters as Trump, begin to question the things he says and do it publicly nothing will change. Well, it will change, in a negative direction. You cannot do or go along with telling people that something is false, biased, treasonous for 20 – 30 years and then expect them suddenly not to believe that. You reap what you sow.

  • Jerry

    Trump , Spice and Conway can fire all the alternative facts that they want…………..the press will get at the truth and the public will be made aware. Its the old adage you can fool some of the people some of the time …..but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. I predict Trump will be out of office before the mid terms in 2018!

    • Bob Dohnal

      Truth??” They wouldn’t know the Truth”!!!

  • Paul Kolosso

    Right on John.
    The Press Corp must act as a coordinated team.

    In my opinion this President is a scientific Luddite, he lacks the ability to ask salient counter questions to develop coherent geo-political, foreign policy and scientific policies for our nation.
    Does he understand the consequences of the accelerating melting of glaciers feeding critical river systems in Asia (India, China, etc).
    Does he even scan the “The Economist”, Scienfitic American, Foreign Affairs, or the Finanicial Times.
    Has he viewed the satellite imagery of contracting ice fields at the North Pole and Greenland.

    He proposes to stop all prophylactic contraception programs across the country. Pity that poor ill educated young girl.
    He proposes to take away the sovereign right of a woman to determine her own regulation of her singular body.
    He proposes a protectionist trade policy akin to the 1930’s. Welcome a stunning trade war.

    This seventy year old man is so self-absorbed with overwhelming Vainglory and hubris I view him as a 21st Century Mussolini.

    • Bob Dohnal

      Paul those comment are nutty, not true and I was against Trump fro 1.5 year. from Tommy, Kasten and other’s, I
      get exactly the opposite answer.

    • JohnTorinus

      It will be hard for the working press to resist responding to Trump in kind.
      But they have to just do their job, stay even-handed, stay as objective as they can.
      People will tire of hyperbole, exaggeration, alternative non-facts.

      You can’t tell left from right, up from down, black from white without substantiated facts.
      The press has some heavy lifting to do.

    • Bob Dohnal

      Paul; Trade war with who? China sells us 600 billion and we sell them 60 billion. Same with others over there. In a war we would come out way ahead.
      There is more ice over the North Pole, last year, then 10 years ago and that is with an El Nino years. Nuts the point on contraception, never said that, no one has day that the is Stephanopolous talk. He is opposed to kiling babies. I havsuride and written about the 30’s and what he wants is just better deals than what we have. We are getting screwed all the time. We do not have Free Trade we have adjusted Trade, and in the other countries favor. The trade should be: ” We make things in this country and sell them to other countries, then buy things from them, made in their country”. Not trade where it is beneficial for our companies to go somewhere else, and sell them back to us. Buchanan, Perot were right all the time.

    • colin scanes

      Right on Paul

  • Bob Dohnal

    No one for president has ever sen such a bunch of lies and crap as trump. Was not a backer till some long time friends: Tommy, Kasten, sue Lynch, Dave Keene, convinced me he was for real.
    I was delegate fro Nixon in 1972 and campaign mgr. for Reagan in SE Wiscon. No one has ever had to endure the crap that Trump has gotten. All from the MSM. Never believe a word they say.

    • colin scanes

      The main stream media is a stupid “lumping” – who’s mainstream – ABC, Wall Street Journal, Fox News or do you get your information from the Alt-Right or worse.

      • Bob Dohnal

        I write it. Cannot find an Alt Right? In fact I sent out 15,000 Emails asking for one, and also to define who is one. “Nutting”.

        • colin scanes

          Do you ever use facts?

  • Bob Dohnal

    John, I saw the numbers too ,and they are talking about the combination of streaming, TV, radio and in person. How many people are not going out anymore when the coverage on the TV is so much better. Seeing the ratings he got, compared to Obama, there were more people watching this, with more excitement too. Look what he has done in just two days. Action, more than Bush/Obama in two years.

  • bob atwell

    Put me in the camp of those who didn’t vote for Trump, but who are significantly less pessimistic about the next four years than we would have been had Hillary won.
    The point most people are missing on crowd size is that the pitchfork rabble from places like Northeast Wisconsin who gave Trump his narrow margin of victory are definitely not the type of people who have the money or the desire to travel to Washington DC for civic events. They don’t want to celebrate a central government spectacle; they want DC to return to its heritage as a backwater place of far less pretentious size and import. They are far more likely to show up for the March for Life this coming weekend than the inauguration last weekend.

  • colin scanes

    Great job, John. Liberty will be lost without vigilance and without the press. We have a very thin skinned President who is lashing out against the press. We need to look at facts, not “alternative facts” otherwise known as falsehoods:
    1. Trump says 3-5 million illegal immigrants voted (presumably against him) – where’s the evidence?
    2. Trump says “This Was The Largest Audience To Ever Witness An Inauguration, Period”
    The TV numbers of Trump’s inauguration were less than Obama (2009) by about 8 million (Nielsen ratings) (why does Trump’s press person lie?)
    3. Trump has said 1-1.5 million people attended. Where the evidence? His press person claims reiterates the claim. Photographs don’t lie. Transit ridership doesn’t lie.
    Who are you going to believe Trump or your lying eyes!!!
    4. Trump claims the media are very honest people. No evidence just insults,

    Trump is dangerous. If you like him – try thinking and looking for evidence and, yes, facts. If you don’t like him, counsel political Republicans and Conservatives so that the damage is limited.