The Thinker: Rich Galen


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CNN is Not an Enemy of the People

Rich Galen

Monday July 16, 2018

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  • During the press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May, CNN's Jim Acosta tried to ask Donald Trump a question. Trump responded (this, via Newsweek):
    At the press conference, president had earlier commented that NBC was "possibly worse than CNN," prompting CNN's Jim Acosta to call out: "Mr. President, since you attacked CNN, can I ask you a question?"

    Trump refused, and called on Fox News to ask a question, prompting Acosta to once again say: "Can I ask you a question?"

    "No. CNN is fake news," Trump shot back. "I don't take questions from CNN. CNN is fake news. I don't take questions from CNN."

  • Jim Acosta is aggressive. Appropriately aggressive to my mind. It is a long-standing tradition among the White House press corps that someone dons that mantle.

  • During Ronald Reagan's Presidency, it was worn by ABC's Sam Donaldson. It got to the point that when Donaldson shouted out "MR. PRESIDENT!" Reagan would cup one hand behind an ear to indicate that he couldn't hear the question.

  • The publisher's summary of Donaldson's book, "Hold On, Mr. President" contains the following anecdote.
    "Once Donaldson cornered Reagan when the president was a guest at an ABC function, grilling him about the latest embarrassing kafuffle at the White House. Network higher ups talked of firing him, but Reagan just chuckled: 'Oh, that's alright, that's just the way Sam is.'"

  • Compare and contrast Reagan's response to response of the Trump administration to Acosta. Trump canceled a planned appearance on Jake Tapper's CNN Sunday show by John Bolton, the Chairman of the National Security Council.

  • Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained in a Tweet:
    "Actually a ?@CNN reporter disrespected ?@POTUS & PM May during their press conf," Huckabee Sanders responded to Tapper in a tweet on Saturday night. "Instead of rewarding bad behavior, we decided to reprioritize the TV appearances for administration officials."

  • Trump doesn't hold press conferences. If I were advising Trump I would agree with that plan.

  • Press conferences are like debates in a Presidential campaign. You have to know a lot of stuff about a lot of different issues; the press corps is likely to try and make you look like you don't know much stuff about many issues; and, it takes a hour out of your otherwise busy day.

  • Barack Obama finessed press conferences by filibustering. He could easily use up eight or ten minutes answering a single question, thus cutting the number of questions that could be asked to six or seven.

  • So, the White House press corps has taken to shouting questions at Trump when they can get within earshot - often when he is crossing the lawn walking from the White House to his helicopter.

  • Obama's relationship with Fox News was at least as toxic as Trump's is with CNN. A 2017 article in Newsweek claims things got so bad between Obama and Fox that then-president of Fox, Roger Ailes, arranged to have a secret dinner meeting with Obama's close advisor David Axelrod in a New York Steakhouse.

  • A healthy mistrust between the press corps and government officials is a good thing. That friction is one reason why the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner has been greeted with more than a little torment: It is antithetical to an arm's length relationship.

  • Even given all that, no president has ever claimed the press corps is "the enemy of the people" as Trump does, it seems, every day.

  • The nature of the press has certainly changed. The explosion of blogs, the rise of on-line news organizations, podcasts, and the oft-discussed 24-hour news cycle led by the three major cable news networks didn't exist 30 years ago.

  • Although CNN went on the air in 1980, Fox and MSNBC didn't join the fray until 1996. Twitter didn't exist until 2006, just two years after Facebook burst on the scene.

  • Couple that with the decrease in the number, the reach, and the depth of print media and we find ourselves proving the second law of thermodynamics: Entropy will always increase over time.

  • I've had the pleasure of working with many reporters at all three cable networks. I have not always agreed with their conclusions, but I have never doubted their honesty or patriotism.

  • Even when I was Newt's press secretary or Dan Quayle's I never thought any of them were "the enemy of the people."

  • Donald Trump should stop saying that.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the Trump/May presser, to the war between Obama and Fox, and to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

    The Mullfoto is from my post office in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia (22320).

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