It is almost impossible to watch television, listen to the radio, or scroll through social media without being subject to the mounting tension between the Trump Administration and the media. Trump insistently refers to media as “fake news” and “enemy of the people” (Wise). The media consistently criticizes Trump’s and his administration’s actions and policies. This research paper will review the impact that the animosity between the Trump administration and the U.S. press has had on recent national and political discourse, both administration policies and the public expectations of the recently released Mueller Report.
The concept of free press in the United States was not always a welcomed idea. The free press is defined as “a body of book” publishers, news media, etc., not controlled or restricted by government censorship in political or ideological matters” (“Definition of Free Press”) . This definition tends to lead to the thought that the relationship between the free press and the government might be adversarial.
Indeed, the animosity between presidential administrations and the U.S. press is not new with the Trump Administration. The Sedition of Act 1798 was signed into law by John Adams, the second president of the United States. It prohibited public opposition to the government. Fines and imprisonment could be used against those who write, print, utter, or publish . . . any false, scandalous and malicious writing” against the government (Harris). Fortunately, this law expired in 1801, the last day of the only presidential term of John Adams. So when we hear the young Trump administration described as unprecedented in its treatment of the media, we often forget that all presidents spar with the press, often viciously (Greenberg).
Each president probably considered himself as treated most unfairly by the press as compared to his predecessors. Naturally, not every journalist is going to agree with all stands taken and decisions made by presidential administrations. Both sides will typically use facts and data and other information as their supporting evidence, but when that evidence tells seemingly opposing stories, disagreements between the two entities can occur. However, two administrations, the Nixon and Trump administrations seem to have taken the press-president association to a different level. Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. A 1973 article written by Richard Harris and published in The New Yorker reads probably no other President has bitterly and publicly criticized that institution as Richard Nixon (Harris). The article goes on to say that Nixon believed the press had it out for him. Harris continued to write that Nixon’s distaste for the press began even before his initial 1960 presidential bid as he was long criticized for his tactics to pressure people. Like Nixon, Donald Trump, the current and 45th president of the United States “has declared war on the American press” (Kalb). It seems that the dislike between Trump and the U.S. press was present early in Trump’s political career. During his 2016 Presidential campaign, the media was drawn to Trump because “he was a near-constant source of scandal and outrage” (Masket) including his erratic behavior, collaboration with the Russians, and campaign financing misconduct. After his election, the Pew Research reported that “coverage of Trump’s first 60 days delivered greater share of negative assessments than coverage of previous presidents (Mitchell, et al.). Trump regularly calls the media “the enemy of the people,” (Masket) and appears at times to “encourage or support violence” against the media (Keneally).
Undoubtedly, the relationship between the Trump Administration and the U.S. press has had a significant impact on national and political discourse. Political discourse is about the text and talk of professional politicians or political institutions both at the local, national and international levels (Discourse in Society – Website of Teun A. Van Dijk). In a February 17, 2017 tweet, Donald Trump wrote: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @NYtimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” (Harris and Gonchar). According to The American Prospect, fake news is a term that has become his administration’s favorite phrase to try to discredit any news…that it doesn’t like (Greenberg). President Trump often utilizes Twitter to express his political discourse, with many of his Tweets directing insults at other politicians, government officials, and of course the media. In February of 2019, the New York Times documented 567 People, Places and Things Donald Trump has insulted on Twitter. Nothing and no one seems to be immune from President Trump’s verbal abuses, as noted in the following Tweets (Quely):
‘Crazy’ of Jim Acosta, the CNN Chief White House Correspondent;
‘An incompetent judge!’ of Ruth Bader Ginsburg a Supreme Court Justice;
‘Dopey clown’ of Mort Zuckerman, owner, the New York Daily News;
‘A total loser’ of Michael Wolff, author Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House; and ‘Wacky’, of Frederica Wilson, U.S. Congresswoman.
Scot Lehigh of the Boston Globe writes that Trump’s insults are “dragging the American political dialogue down to the level of a high school food fight”. It has become so routine that we as a nation simply shrug our collective shoulders at the latest bit of name-calling or character assassination and say, well, that’s just the president being Trump (Lehigh). On an international level, the Pew Research Center states that many countries across the world have expressed concern about America’s role and President Donald Trump as a world leader (Bialik). According to the research, Western Europeans having strikingly negative views of Trump and feel that the U.S. does not respect the individual liberties of its people. Forty-three percent of countries surveyed have an unfavorable opinion of the U.S. and large majorities say the U.S. doesn’t take the interests of other countries into account when making foreign policy decisions.
The relationship between the Trump Administration and the U.S. press has played a role on both administration policies. While some media organizations have not changed their journalism approach, other press members have recognized a need to reexamine how they report on the current administration. The Business Insider polled eleven media outlets to understand how adjustments have been made in their organization in light of the Trump Administration. It reports, Regardless of whether they’re frightened, unfazed, or motivated by the new administration’s declaration of war on the press, many journalists are examining, and doubling down, on their coverage of the new administration (Tani). The VOX has added staff to cover policy as it feels that the subject gets loss among Trump’s tweets, fights, and obsessions (Tani). The Daily Beast hired a diversity of opinions to ensure they have credibility on both sides of the aisles to have the credibility to criticize (Tani) The Atlantic admitted to hiring journalists away from other media outlets to “allocated more resources than usual to cover this novel experiment in governance (Tani). Mic launched a newsletter titled Navigating Trump’s America to aggressively cover protests across the U.S. (Tani). Lastly, the Talking Points Memo stated, “we are deepening our investment in investigative reporting because we can already see that this administration is uniquely opaque and likely to be uniquely corrupt” (Tani). It should be noted that in August of 2018 hundreds of newspaper editorial boards across the country answered a nationwide call to express disdain for President Trump’s attacks on the news media (Bever and Wootson, Jr). Jonathan Rauch, author and Senior Fellow – Governance Studies of the Brookings Institution draws another parallel between Nixon and Trump. Rauch writes: “Nixon and Watergate wounded up strengthening the institutions that Nixon hated the most, mainstream media chief among them. Trump may end up having the same effect”” (Rauch).
Presidential administrative policies have also been impacted by the presidential-media relationship. In 2015, Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, sent his first Tweet using the first Twitter account created for the U.S. President POTUS (Wall). However, the current Trump administration has been cited by Diggit Magazine as the Twitter-based presidency (Hollinger). Trump as taken to social media as a political tool to assert influence and globalize ideas. Diggit Magazine goes on to say that Trump’s ability to rapidly and constantly connect with the American public is the single most important reason for his popularity and ultimate success (Hollinger). But even though POTUS is now the official Twitter handle of Donald Trump, he predominantly uses is personal account @real DonaldTrump to push his political agenda. In an interview with the Times of the UK Trump said of his personal account that had over 20 million followers in 2017. “I’d rather just let that build up and just keep it @realDonaldTrump, its working and the tweeting, I thought I’d do less of it, but I’m covered so dishonestly by the press so dishonestly that I can put out Twitter and it’s not 140, it’s now 280 I can go bing bing bing . . . and they put it on and as soon as I tweet it out this morning on television, Fox Donald Trump, we have breaking news” (Roberts).
The relationship between the Trump Administration and the U.S. press has impacted the public expectations of the recently-released Mueller Report. U.S. politicians have almost always been subject to open criticism. It is a rite of passage of sorts if one can endure. The U.S. President may arguably be the most criticized U.S. politician and Trump’s linkage to scandals such as sexual assault claims by women, promotion of his wife’s and daughters brands via the White House website and briefing room and Trump’s campaign paying his businesses makes him even more of a target for public criticism (Holder). Just five months after Trump took office in January of 2017, Robert Mueller, who headed the FBI for more than a decade, was appointed special counsel in May 2017 to oversee the investigation looking into alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election (“What Does the Special Counsel Do?”). The findings of the investigation have come to be known as the Mueller Report. Since 1967, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency (“FOIA.gov”). In 2017 alone the FBI received 15,042 FOIA requests, (“FOIA.gov”) so it should not be surprising that both the press and the public expected to be see the full findings contained in the Mueller report, especially given Trump’s reported scandalous history. However, the full report has not been released for public consumption. The special counsel delivered the 400 plus page report to Attorney General Barr in late March. In a letter written to Congress, Barr said he would release the report after sensitive information was redacted, including grand jury testimony and classified information (Raymond). The redacted version was publicly released on April 18, 2019 but Democrats are demanding to see the full version. House and Senate Democrats wrote to Attorney General William Barr Thursday, urging him to send the full report from special counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election so that they can hold President Trump accountable (Ferrechio).
Whether its fake news, free press, or freedom of speech the animosity between U.S. presidential administrations and the media has an impact on the political landscape of the country and has the possibility to permanently reshape that landscape. Changes have the potential to be destructive or constructive. It’s difficult to say how the relationship can be repaired, it at all. Yet a new Pew Research Center poll shows a full 83% of American adults agreed that the relationship between Trump and the news media is generally unhealthy. Another large majority, 73%, said that tension is getting in the way of Americans’ access to important news” (Bierman). Both the Trump administration and the media should work to ensure that their relationship is for the greater good of the American People and not driven by personal gain.