Trump's bash-the-press strategy will come back to haunt him

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Donald Trump's mournfully transparent attack on the press guarantees a short-term political gain. But what the hell happens in the long run?

Everybody hates "the media" these days, so, fine, bash it and win points. Turn it into your opposition party. Easy peasy. Claim it deliberately lies about the crowd at the inauguration, the ridership on the D.C. Metro that day or an Oval Office bust removed.

Presto. It will work...for a time.

Mike McCurry, the former Bill Clinton spokesman, concedes he himself could be "a screamer." But there was a reason: McCurry felt somebody in the West Wing had to be the Fourth Estate's advocate, given legitimate questions of access to information and decision-makers.

But West Wing colleagues would sometimes go ballistic over negative media coverage. They'd yell at him about the miscues of "your friends in the press." So then he'd sometimes yell at the press, though most took it in stride, knowing, at the end of the day, "we'd go back to getting the job done."

Trump won't desist because he's Trump. "But there will come a time when you really need to communicate important information to the public and if that relationship of trust has been lost with the media — the public's surrogate — the president's capacity to lead will have been significantly diminished," McCurry said. "That's not good at all."

As for new Press Secretary Sean Spicer's five-minute tirade Saturday — complete with that oversized suit jacket perhaps borrowed from a Washington Redskins lineman (the collar had a life of its own) — this is the thought of Dennis Culloton, a Chicago corporate and political strategist who was spokesman for former (later imprisoned) Republican Illinois Gov. George Ryan:

"Mr. Spicer is taking on a difficult job and seems very qualified. I've certainly been in the situation where frustrated elected officials and corporate executives want me to rip the media."

"The key is to be more strategic and cool-headed. When you are president — or any top elected official — you have the opportunity to change the topic to a more interesting story. You have the chance to curry more favorable coverage with other media outlets. The new administration's idea of bringing in more new media outlets is a great example of that. "

"As tempting as it is to lecture the whole White House press corps, it works about as well as when your teacher would lecture the whole classroom because one kid shot a spitball."

University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato is not sure whether this is all a long-term strategy or a tactic designed to divert attention from self-generated controversies. The thinking would seem to be that, as unpopular as Trump might be, the press will always be less popular.

And he's proven the "value of devil figures," says Sabato. "Against all odds, he catapulted into the presidency by skillfully using a series of devils (Obama, Clinton, Mexicans, Muslims, China). To keep his 46 percent together, he must continue to target a great big devil figure. The news media does nicely. Everybody has a grievance or two against the media."

How far can he go politically with this? A long way, Sabato suggests. But the fly in the ointment was on display Saturday.

"The 54 percent who voted for someone else aren't giving up and dislike him as much as they did last fall. They are the permanent opposition, and it's just possible these millions will be the ally that sustains the press during the dark years ahead."

And Bill Kristol, founding editor of The Weekly Standard, puts it this way:

"The main downside is if they believe bashing the press is a substitute for actually governing competently. Even as a short-term diversion, I think it runs out of steam pretty fast. It riles up a part of the base, but doesn't broaden his support at all, which they need to do."

Yahoo's problems mount

"U.S. authorities are investigating whether Yahoo Inc.’s two massive data breaches should have been reported sooner to investors, according to people familiar with the matter, in what could prove to be a major test in defining when a company is required to disclose a hack." (The Wall Street Journal)

The morning babble

On "Fox & Friends," there was talk of Trump's "rousing welcome" at the CIA Saturday, downplaying his anti-media riff, and the image of whirling dervish chief executive getting down to work. "His docket is packed with meetings and executive actions...and that's just today!" said Trump cheerleader Steve Doocy.

At CNN's "New Day" and MSNBC's "Morning Joe," it was about "war" on the media and the Saturday protests. And lousy weather all over the place. The latter's Mark Halperin talked about the tendency of governments to lie about "big things," not what Trump did, especially at the CIA.

And then there was Joe Scarborough, self-appointed Trump whisperer, who cited battles among aides going on over the weekend, akin to some other reports. (The New York Times) Some aides are "actually goading Donald Trump along," he said, citing one unidentified source. "Those aides should be fired today for the good of America."

Oh, CNN also had an advertisement from an independent expenditure group (the "45 Committee"), urging viewers to prod their senators to confirm Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. The prodding won't be needed, but at least the press makes a few bucks. The pitch segued into one for Sandals resorts.

The audacious Conway

Brian Williams noted late Saturday on MSNBC that The New York Times was not backing down from its more unvarnished headlines on Donald Trump deceits. Not long after Trump's and Spicer's audacious declaration Saturday came this one: "With false claims, Trump attacks media on turnout and intelligence rift."

Sunday morning came Kellyanne Conway's brazen claim that Spicer had been offering "alternative facts." The tech site Recode's headline? "Trump’s press secretary lied his first day on the job and became a viral meme." (Recode)

It's all vaguely Orwellian. As the late Christopher Hitchens put it, Orwell was discerning "the outline of a discourse in which, for example, 'freedom is slavery.'"

Trump went to the CIA and lied, Spicer went to the White House briefing room and lied, then Conway went on "Meet the Press" and lied.

As Matthew Baum of Harvard's Kennedy School puts it to me, "I suppose one could say that it's better that she's being up front about the willingness of the new administration to invent new realities when the existing ones out in nature are inconvenient. But, on the other hand, I'm not sure how the press is going to deal with this."

As a Washington consultant friend said to me Sunday, "this bunch is making Richard Nixon look like a real Quaker." And we're only at day three.

Robin Wright on The Wall at the CIA

"In his remarks, Trump made passing reference to the 'special wall' behind him but never mentioned the top-secret work or personal sacrifices of intelligence officers like (former top intelligence officer Robert) Ames and the others who died in Beirut, including the CIA. station chief Kenneth Haas, and James F. Lewis, who had been a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, and his wife Monique, who was on her first day on the job at the Beirut embassy. Nor did the President refer to any of the dozens of others for whom stars are etched on the hallowed CIA. wall of honor. It was like going to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and not mentioning those who died in the Second World War." (The New Yorker)

Speaking of alternative facts

This, from Breitbart News:

"The mainstream media lost no time in attempting to undermine President Donald Trump, as opposed to actually reporting information."

"After eight years of kowtowing to Obama, they have suddenly discovered a civic responsibility to hold the government accountable. But they are focusing on minutiae, and in some cases actually telling lies, both of omission and commission. That risks alienating the public even further — making it harder, actually, for the media to act as watchdogs."

Hiding history

This is revealing, from a New York Times profile of a Chinese journalist-academic who's nervily written a history of Mao's decade of bloodshed and purges that was the Cultural Revolution. Of course, its publications banned in China, where "Yanhuang Chunqiu, a liberal-leaning Chinese history magazine where Mr. Yang (Jisheng) was long a chief editor, was taken over by editors much more willing to toe the party line."

"Last year, too, Chinese media mostly stayed silent about the 50th anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution. An exception was an editorial in the party’s main newspaper, People’s Daily, which urged citizens to look to the future." (The New York Times)

A German exclusive on Warren Buffett

A Dusseldorf business publication, Handelsblatt, broke word that Berkshire Hathaway will buy Wilhelm Schulz GmbH, a closely-held firm that's the world leader in piping components. (Handelsblatt)

Frenemies

The long-standing relationship between Trump and Forbes has been mutually beneficial, filled with frictions and inadvertently revealing of a curious similarity. (The Guardian)

"While many equally venerable competitors have stagnated, in recent years Forbes has moved in two very innovative directions, one of which bears a striking resemblance to Trump’s own business model...Like many magazines, Forbes has licensing deals with partners who publish versions around the world, but the company has also taken brand extension further than almost any other."

Hogan v. Gawker, the documentary

A documentary about bashing the press need not be about Trump. There's also the Peter Thiel-financed Hulk Hogan suit that brought down Gawker. "The Sundance documentary ‘Nobody Speak’ chronicles how an angry billionaire was able to take down the news site Gawker out of spite, providing a disturbing window into our future." (The Daily Beast)

Fox on the Women's March, Trump's dissembling

Its coverage of the march was predictably rather less extensive than its competitors' reporting. (The Hollywood Reporter) "And when Fox did finally report on the historic march, it was often in a smug, dismissive tone."

But it did well in assessing the Trump appearance at the CIA and Press Secretary Sean Spicer's awful performance in attacking the press. In particular, Bret Baier, Charles Krauthammer and Howie Kurtz played it straight and left no doubt that the two men were battling the truth.

More than he bargained for

Freelance photographer Taylor Mickal was covering the inauguration when he saw some fighting and cops spraying mace. He figured he'd be left alone, taking his photos.

"I was wrong. They screamed 'get down!' and I said 'OK, I’m coming down!' That statement was met with a large release of pepper spray directly into my eyes from about two to three feet away. I fell down to the ground hard, camera in hand. (PetaPixel)

LinkedIn and misinformation

What's a big redesign at LinkedIn doing to curb the spread of misinformation? Chris Pruett, senior director of engineering, was asked on Cheddar, a sort of CNBC for millennials. You might scratch your head after his response. It was unclear. (Cheddar)

A winning twosome

As a 29-year partnership on ESPN's NFL Sunday NFL shows comes to a close, ESPN named a studio after hyperbolic Chris Berman and former player Tom Jackson. It fell short of President Obama surprising Joe Biden with the Medal of Freedom. But it's ESPN, not war and peace.

Investigative food journalism?

Not really. But Eater.com explained why it was that Trump's nine-layer, 4-foot-tall inauguration cake was close to a carbon copy of Obama's four years earlier. A Washington cake maker claims its imitation was a sincere form of flattery. (Eater)

No news is, ah, no news

Anita Kumar of McClatchy sent a pool note out to fellow White House correspondents yesterday, noting that the new regime had issued "no guidance for today" i.e. not even rudimentary idea of what Trump was up to.

That's very unusual, except on days filled with national security-related matters, says Mark Knoller of CBS News. Yesterday, the big events being hidden included swearing in staff and Trump attending a social reception.

Get used to it

"A new analysis of late-night humor by the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University found that the New York developer was the subject of 1,817 jokes between Jan. 1, 2016 and Nov. 11, 2016, a few days after Election Day. That’s more than triple the 506 jokes directed at Hillary Clinton. (The Washington Post)

Early Super Bowl trivia

CNBC's John Harwood tweeted, "last and only time Falcons played in Super Bowl, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was part of halftime show." (@JohnJHarwood)

That prompted Keith Olbermann to inform, "Worse than that. I was the host of the first (and very possibly last) internet-only halftime show, for FoxSports.com."

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.

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