Donald Trump’s favourite nickname for the news media is the “dishonest press.” He swaps in “disgusting press” from time to time.
And sometimes, he puts it all together: “disgusting, dishonest human beings.”
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has a whole menu of takedowns for individual reporters and news organisations. In recent weeks, he’s used his microphone and his tweets to label them “third-rate,” ‘’not nice,” ‘’disgraceful,” ‘’phony,” ‘’low-life,” ‘’very unprofessional” and “bad people.” Or, for extra emphasis in a tweet, “BAD.”
He’s also been quick to yank or withhold credentials from news organisations whose coverage he doesn’t like — most recently, The Washington Post.
Trump seems to be perpetually mad at the press, but there’s a method to his madness.
He sees little downside to bashing the media — and plenty of potential benefits.
Though presidential candidate’s beat-the-press strategy is nothing new (Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Senior George HW Bush all did it), but Trump is taking the to a whole new level.
In a recent one-month period, he delivered 39 tweets skewering reporters and media organisations, mixed in with a much smaller number of positive and neutral references in his Twitter feed. Just one example: “The media is really on a witch-hunt against me. False reporting, and plenty of it - but we will prevail!”
This week, Trump revoked the Post’s credentials, citing what he called the paper’s “incredibly inaccurate coverage and reporting.” Other news organisations he’s banned, either short-term or permanently, include Politico, the Des Moines Register, BuzzFeed, the Daily Beast and the Huffington Post.
Post editor Martin Baron called Trump’s latest move “nothing less than a repudiation of the role of a free and independent press.”
For one thing, his over-the-top language can be a successful strategy for changing the subject when he wants to divert attention.
Last month, when reporters pressed Trump to document what he’d done with millions of dollars raised for veterans, he turned on them, calling one reporter “a sleaze” and sarcastically referring to another as “a real beauty.” That language itself became a big part of the story, shifting some of the attention away from questions about his handling of the money for veterans.
Trump’s constant criticism of the press also helps to inoculate him against future negative news stories.
Conservatives, in particular, already are wary of the mainstream media, and Trump’s rhetoric reinforces the message that nothing from the media is to be believed.
With the Republican Party in turmoil over Trump’s candidacy, the billionaire’s broadsides also serve as a unifying theme within the party. GOP faithful may have big differences with Trump on the issues, but they’re at one with him on contempt for the mainstream media.
At the same time, though, Trump can be charming in one-on-one interviews, flattering reporters and complimenting their questions. He calls many of them by their first names. He takes questions and offers considerable access, seeming to understand that for all his complaints about the press, he can’t live without them.