Republicans have complained about media bias for decades. But Donald Trump, whose attacks on the press are escalating, is staking out a position much more extreme than his predecessors.
In Trump’s world, journalists are really just Hillary Clinton campaign workers in disguise, collaborating with Clinton in a conspiracy to “rig” the election.
This is a marked change from past Republican complaints about the press. In fact, he is doing much more than alleging a lack of objectivity.
“Instead of talking about favoritism among journalists toward a candidate or cause, Trump is making a more extreme claim: doing politics and doing journalism are the same thing,” journalism professor Jay Rosen told CNNMoney. “In this way of thinking, ‘the media’ and ‘the left’ have an equal sign between them.”
Trump’s media allies have encouraged and supported this way of thinking.
Fox host Sean Hannity on Thursday called the media “an extension of Clinton.”
It has become common for Trump to falsely accuse journalists of collusion with Clinton.
In recent days, Trump has cited a stolen cache of documents published by Wikileaks to claim that “the media collaborates” with Clinton.
But the documents show only isolated examples of questionable journalistic behavior — not the systemic fraud he alleges.
Trump has also tried to deny the legitimacy of some of the county’s most esteemed newsrooms.
“Reporters at The New York Times, they’re not journalists, they’re corporate lobbyists for Carlos Slim and Hillary Clinton,” Trump said Friday. He railed against the paper for publishing accounts from two women who say Trump groped them.
“The election is being rigged by corrupt media pushing completely false allegations and outright lies in an effort to elect her president,” Trump said Saturday.
Accusations of bias are as old as the craft itself. Media watchdogs on the left and the right seek to hold journalists accountable.
But Trump’s accusations are different. They suggest he sees no difference between the practice of journalism and the practice of politics.
Trump is reflecting a growing view on the right that journalists are nothing more than “Democratic operatives with bylines,” as conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds likes to say.
Rosen said the Trump supporters who adopt this point of view have essentially opted out of journalism.
Many journalists do, in fact, dislike Trump and resent the campaign’s relentless media criticism. Some of them viscerally fear the candidate and the long term impact of his words. Critics charge that this antipathy bleeds into news coverage.
But individual opinions about Trump’s campaign trail conduct are wholly different from an institutional conspiracy to elect Clinton.
Newsrooms are inherently competitive places, resistant to collaboration, even when it would benefit them. And news outlets are market driven: If many outlets all sound the same, there are business incentives to create alternatives.
But Trump doesn’t acknowledge any of that.
Trump’s attacks serve multiple purposes. By targeting the messenger, he is attempting to discredit the message and inoculate himself from an avalanche of critical news stories. He is also energizing the supporters who come to his rallies and cheer for him on social media.
Trump’s media tirades have been met by chants of “CNN sucks” at rallies this week.
At one of his events on Friday, Trump said he will “stop” the “sick media.”
“The media is, indeed, sick, and it’s making our country sick, and we’re going to stop it,” he said.
He did not specify how.