Enemies of the American People: Being the Media in Trump’s America

cpac press w

cpac press w

Madison Dibble

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is an annual event that brings together conservatives from across the spectrum in a movement of unity; however, this year’s CPAC was noticeably more Republican than conservative.

Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway said it best when she stated, “I think by tomorrow this will be TPAC when [President Trump] is here. No doubt.”

Conway was right. This CPAC had a strong wave of President Trump’s brand of nationalism, populism, and—most notably—hatred for the media. It is no secret that President Trump despises the media. He built his campaign by smacking the media around, and voters loved it. Strong portions of President Trump’s supporters feel that the media is dishonest and does notaccurately depict the working class that the President won over.

From the very first primary debate, then-candidate Trump went after the media—and not just CNN. He clocked former Fox News host and debate moderator Megan Kelly for her “unfair” questions, claiming that she had blood coming from her “wherever,” and the assault continued throughout the primaries.

After the surprise election results on November 8, President Trump roasted the media for its polling errors. Followinga note written to the subscribers of the New York Timesas a promise to “rededicate [the NYT] to the fundamental mission of Times journalism,” President Trump attacked the publication, tweeting, “The @nytimes sent a letter to their subscribers apologizing for their BAD coverage of me. I wonder if it will change – doubt it?”

Fromthe failed election night predictions, President Trump started on his most recent tagline: fake news. Since then, fake news is the President’s go-to Twitter attack on any story. The President claims that this is not personal for him, but a real problem for the American people: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People,” Trump claims.Attacks like these float across the President’s personal twitter feed weekly, if not daily.

Some of the attacks are justified. The media did blow the election night predictions. There have been stories on President Trump or his family that are exaggerated at best, and dishonest at worst, but that can be said of almost any public person.

President Trump has every right to point out inaccuracies in the media. He has a right to condemn specific journalists or outlets that print false or misleading information. With that said, President Trump’s disdain and repeated attacks on the media as an institution are a threat to democracy, and this hatred for the media is growing in the conservative movement.

Sitting in the press section of CPAC in 2016 was what one would expect. All the way in the back of the massive ballroom, there are rows of tightly packed tables with coffee-fueled journalists rapidly typing story after story, covering the powerful line-ups that CPAC throws together every year. There is minimal interaction between the press and the attendees. Unless someone triesto snag a selfie with his or herfavorite writer or pundit, they leave the media to their work. Journalistsare flies on the wall of the event, observing and writing, but not participating in any way.

That changed this year: CPAC 2017 had an entirely different feel in the press pit, compared to 2016. There are still the same narrow rows of writers hunched over laptops, but the writers are no longer flies on the wall.

Speaker after speaker, everyone from daytime television actors to the President himself hurled insults at the back of the room, where the very people they insulted worked tryingto remove bias, writing about how dishonest their profession is.

Vice President Pence spoke to the crowd about the liberal elites and their allies in the media who disrespect the working class and Middle America; White House Chief Strategist and former Breitbart News editor Steve Bannon referred to the media as the “opposition party”; in a speech on gun control, Dana Loesch of The Blaze stated, “To the left and all of you [the press] in the back: Women had the right to bear arms before they had the right to vote and I will be damned if I am going to let you take that from me.”

This weaving of the left and the media is a dangerous trend. There is aliberal bias in the news, but there is a conservative bias, too. Readers make the decision to trust whom they trust. Republicans who believe that the media is high-jacking stories and turning the country against conservatism clearly did not see the election results.

Beyond this fusion of the left and the media’s alleged threat tothe country, it is also horrible to be a journalist at conservative events.

When President Trump spoke, the room was packed; it hit capacity at least an hour before his speech. Because the room was so full, event organizersmade a standing room section behind the press pit, surrounding the press on all sides.

There was a noticeable rise in security presence surrounding the press pit. Officers checked every journalist’s credentials before letting them in,and journalists were not allowed to be let out once in. In 2016, there was a very minimal security presence in the press pit, though the change could just be because of heightened security for the President.

The President began his speech by thanking everyone and telling them to take a seat. He joked, “The media will tell everyone that I didn’t have a standing ovation when you sit down, but I don’t care.”

Thisstatement started the jeers. Surrounded by Trump’s supporters, booing and shouts of fake news were targeted at the press pit. President Trump spent the first half of his speech doubling down on his comments that the press is “an enemy of the American people,” and adamantly speaking about the press’s dishonesty.

Because it was CPAC, there were mixed emotions in the press pit: Some journalists were visibly angry. Some shouted back at the jeering crowd. Other conservative bloggers stood and applauded the President’s remarks.

The president’s remarks were not directed at Fox News, Breitbart, or even the Minnesota Republic (I assume), but the distinction was never made.

The problem with President Trump’s rampage he is on against the media is that it is not a targeted attack at specific stories or falsities, but it is an attack on the institution. Our founders knew the importance of the press. They believed it so strongly that they put it in the First Amendment. The media is a watchdog. Sometimes the media barks at the wrong target, but that does not mean that we no longer need it in general.

This media-bashing trend in conservatism, in an attempt to just blindly back what the Republican Party is doing, is terrible, and it is most visible in the party’s treatment of the media. Conservatives used to pride themselves on their belief in the Constitution. They used to take adversity head on and battle using facts instead of anecdotal evidence. They used to believe in limiting presidential power, and supported the work that the press does to maintain this limited power.

These conservative beliefs have been smothered under President Trump. It is not yet clear if they will change CPAC to TPAC as Conway suggested, but without a principled backbone in the conservative movement, they might as well.