The mainstream news media shares much of the blame for the Donald Trump presidency. The news media did not take Trump seriously until it was much too late and the Washington press corps, in particular, still hasn’t figured out how to cover him by being deferential to the office but not the malignant narcissist who occupies it.
All that noted, and with Trump’s perfidious and intentional mischaracterization on Sunday of his recent private meeting with New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, the news media — and The Times, The Washington Post and a revived and recommitted CNN, in particular — has been a major player in stripping away the layers of crap and corruption surrounding Trump through a phenomenal series of investigative stories that have laid bare his aberrant behavior, innumerable excesses and thousands of lies. (Including what he and Sulzberger discussed.)
I certainly am not the only jounalist to wish Hunter S. Thompson was still alive to cover the Madness of King Donald.
Dr. Thompson was the progenitor of Gonzo journalism, typically first-person narratives written without even a veneer of objectivity, and most famously the author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. (Don’t even think of seeing the movie starring Johnny Depp; read the damned book, okay?)
I met Dr. Thompson twice, once in Aspen, Colorado in the summer of 1974 when he was running for Pitkin County sheriff on the Freak Ticket, and again a few years later in the Florida Keys. He had already proven himself to be incapable of sustaining his brilliance. Being a gun nut, drug abuser and consumer of massive quantities of hard liquor had pretty much put him on the suicide track, although it would be a fair number of years before he blew out what was left of his brains, appropriately perhaps in 2005 at the height of the Bush years.
Booman at the Booman Tribune reminds me that Thompson also was harshly critical of the news media in the run-up to our last great constitutional crisis — the Watergate scandal — but then as he wrote in a September 1973 Rolling Stone magazine feature titled “Fear and Loathing at the Watergate: Mr. Nixon Has Cashed His Check” . . .
One of the most extraordinary aspects of the Watergate story has been the way the press has handled it: What began in the summer of 1972 as one of the great media-bungles of the century has developed, by now, into what is probably the most thoroughly and most professionally covered story in the history of American journalism.
When I boomed into Washington last month to meet Steadman and set up the National Affairs Desk once again, I expected — or in retrospect I think I expected — to find the high-rolling newsmeisters of the capital press corps jabbering blindly among themselves, once again, in some stylish sector of reality far-removed from the Main Nerve of “the story” . . . like climbing aboard Ed Muskie’s Sunshine Special in the Florida primary and finding every media star in the nation sipping Bloody Marys and convinced they were riding the rails to Miami with “the candidate” . . . or sitting down to lunch at the Sioux Falls Holiday Inn on election day with a half-dozen of the heaviest press wizards and coming away convinced that McGovern couldn’t possibly lose by more than ten points.
My experience on the campaign trail in 1972 had not filled me with a real sense of awe, vis-a-vis the wisdom of the national press corps . . . so I was seriously jolted, when I arrived in Washington, to find that the bastards had this Watergate story nailed up and bleeding from every extremity — from “Watergate” and all its twisted details, to ITT, the Vesco case, Nixon’s lies about the financing for his San Clemente beach-mansion, and even the long-dormant “Agnew Scandal.”
Nixon helpfully enhanced the case that he was seriously violating his oath of office, not to mention that Constitution thing, by including journalists on his infamous if secret Enemies List.
Trump is even less subtle in his disregard for the press freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment and has repeatedly sought to ban journalist for doing their jobs — asking tough questions — because they have the habit of pointing out what a dreadful job he is doing of his.
“I told him that although the phrase ‘fake news’ is untrue and harmful,” Sulzberger said in a statement after Trump put his own spin on what was supposed to have been a private meeting in a tweet. “I am far more concerned about his labeling journalists ‘the enemy of the people.’ I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence . . . putting lives at risk” and “undermining the democratic ideals of our nation.”
I don’t want to get carried away with my praise.
The news media as a whole has been painfully slow to understand the scope of the Russia scandal. And it still is far too deferential to chuckleheads like Rudy Giuliani and Devin Nunes. But a big corner has been turned, and when Trump does fall — and he will fall and fall hard — the telling-truth-to-lies news media he so loathes will have had much to do with that.