President Trump unveiled an alternate universe Thursday in which virtually every problem of his is the creation of the press.
In a rambling, angry and contradictory media meltdown, Trump bashed “the failing New York Times,” The Wall Street Journal, CNN and the BBC, among others, following a fleeting announcement of a new nominee for Labor Secretary.
It constituted what at minimum is a quadrupling down — or might it be quintupling down? — on a transparent strategy to portray the press as an opposition party.
“Alrighty, then, that was some press conference!” said Melissa Francis, a Fox News anchor, as soon as it was over. “The main topic, I mean, the press, was perhaps the most extraordinary sustained attack on the press by a president ever in the United States.”
Never has Trump’s personal obsession with coverage of himself been so vivid. It was only sidetracked, it seemed, by an odd array of declarations and claims. Those included his taking selective and self-serving use of polling to new depths, while also proffering a new species of political self-congratulation during his strikingly defensive performance: prospectively heralding the “massive” crowd to attend a Saturday rally in Melbourne, Florida.
“Much of the media in Washington, D.C., along with New York, Los Angeles, in particular, speaks not for the public but for the special interests and those profiting from a very broken system. The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people, tremendous disservice, we have to talk about it. Because the level of dishonesty is out of control.”
He thus portrayed himself as savior of a “broken system” that includes the press, and how the poor portrayals of his first weeks reflect a media unhappy with the progress he is making. He took what might have been deemed political hyperbole, were it in the middle of a campaign, to an arguable extreme by claiming his initial weeks were the most successful in the history of the presidency.
He made much, too, of a Rasmussen Reports poll that claimed his approval rating is 55 percent.
But the battle plan was clearly to counterattack in a hear-no-evil-see-no-evil performance. He said that claims of administration disarray aside, the White House is running “like a fine-tuned machine” and also claim popular support symbolized by “crowds that are massive that want to be there” for the Melbourne event.
And both Jonathan Karl of ABC and Jim Acosta of CNN pressed him on what seems a self-contradictory construct of his: claiming there have been criminal leaks regarding former national security adviser Michael Flynn but that the results are “fake news.”
He claimed he was “not ranting and raving” at the press but “they are dishonest people.”
And, throughout, Trump showed an unvarnished sensitivity to his portrayals in the media, while he derided the same press. He was especially harsh toward CNN, saying it’s a producer not just of “fake news” but “very fake news.”
If there was a procedural surprise, it was his not allowing a narrow pre-selected group of ideological sympathizers to ask questions. He seemed unchained, to that extent, and quick to characterize organizations and individuals, impugn their motives in some cases, and verged on ranting at times.
When he asked for the institutional affiliation of one questioner, and the reporter said “the BBC,” Trump bashed them, too, as “a real beauty” and rivaling his bete noire, CNN.
He preceded a question from April Ryan, from the Black-oriented American Urban Radio Networks, by declaring, “This is going to be a bad question.” So clearly, every reporter he knows is identified as good or bad for Trump. He then asked Ryan, who is Black, whether she could set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus.
However, there is shelter from the media storm for Trump: “Fox & Friends,” the Fox News morning show that tends to be a pre-breakfast homage to Trump.
It constitutes “the most honest show.”
Perhaps it will offer a cogent explanation Thursday of perhaps the most befuddling, if revealing line of the rancorous performance: his thesis that the Flynn “leaks are real, the news is fake.”
That perfectly summed up the logic of the performance, which will surely be seen by his supporters as affirmation of the political renegade for whom they voted.
“This was mesmerizing in one sense,” Fox show host Bret Baier told colleague Francis. “There will be people who say it is unhinged and whose heads are going to explode. This is Trump being Trump.”
Yes, it was Donald Trump being Donald Trump. On that, the president and the press can concur.