War with the press strategic

It is fairly obvious that Trump and his campaign team, and now Trump and his White House team, are running a war on the media strategy.

This is made easier by how some of the media have dealt with Trump and how they continue to report on him.

VOX: Trump can be impulsive. But his war with the press is strategic.

Donald Trump very deliberately picked a fight with the media to help fuel his rise to the White House, and now that he’s there — and his administration is struggling — he is strategically escalating it.

On Friday, the administration canceled press secretary Sean Spicer’s scheduled briefing to the full White House press corps, and replaced it instead with an off-camera briefing to which some media outlets were invited — and others were excluded, including CNN, the New York Times, Politico, and BuzzFeed News.

This isn’t an isolated incident. The move came on the heels of a morning speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in which Trump complained, at length, about what he called the “fake” media, saying “they are the enemy of the people.”

And at Trump’s freewheeling press conference last week, he similarly started off by denouncing members of the media who, he said, “will not tell you the truth and will not treat the wonderful people of our country with the respect that we deserve.”

Trump can be erratic, reactionary and unpredictable but this is too consistent to be anything other than a deliberate strategy.

Though Trump is surely motivated in part by personal pique here, and he has long complained about the press, it’s now indisputable that the attacks on the press are part of a deliberate White House strategy — one that has the fingerprints of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who early on in the administration suggested the media was the “opposition party” and Trump’s most important foe.

Some claim this is to divert from what the White House are achieving. Andrew Prokop claims this is to hide their lack of achievements, including:

  1. He’s ended his first month without any significant accomplishments (since his controversial immigration and travel order is currently frozen in the courts).
  2.  2) He’s been plagued by a seemingly endless series of leaks from what appears to be every level of the government.
  3. There are burgeoning scandals potentially implicating his administration officials and associates — scandals publicized and often exacerbated by the aforementioned leaks.
  4. With Democrats reduced to minority status in both houses of Congress, and years remaining before candidates begin challenging him for the 2020 election, he’s lacking an obvious enemy to make his foil.

It could be a bit of both – diversion from what they are trying to do and diversion from failures.

Trump appears to be trying to solve all these problems by attacking the press. Doing so changes the subject from his lack of accomplishments and scandals. It also discredits the institution that is the conveyor of a great deal of negative information about him. And it gives Trump a nemesis he can fire up the conservative base by fighting.

The strategy certainly seems be be pleasing at least some of Trump’s support base, who only seem to see positives in him so anyone who criticises is seen as a negative.

But the fairly large number of sceptics and opponents are unlikely to be converted to the Trump cause by this. They also risk losing from support if Trump fails to live up to his boasts.

Trump and his team are deepening the divide. This may or may not be a deliberate strategy.

Will it work? Maybe, to an extent (every President will always have opponents).

The bigger picture here is that being president is difficult, and Donald Trump has had a particularly rocky start to his administration.

With his appointees bogged down in Congress, no evident movement on any of his major legislative priorities, his main executive action blocked in the courts, and his top national security aide already fired and replaced, Trump has little to show for his first month in office.

The idea that he can get his mojo back by attacking the press might seem to make sense. After all, Trump enjoys fighting, so if the goal here is to please the president by picking a fight, then mission accomplished.

But if the goal is to actually get anything done in this administration, it’s not so clear this is wise. Picking random fights with the media won’t help the White House get anything through Congress. It won’t make FBI investigations go away. And it won’t help the administration’s arguments in the courts.

Another problem is that if the administration destroys its own credibility by waging a war on the press, it could have a hard time getting its message out later when it truly needs to — say, during a major crisis of some kind.

A ‘cry wolf’ problem. This also applies to when there is actually valid criticism of some media – it could be largely ignored as just more strategy.

The media has a credibility problem, but so does Trump. It’s likely the bulk of the public will become even more disillusioned with both the politicians and the press.

Moves like this could also make the leak problem worse. The more people inside the government get scared that Trump is threatening democracy, the more they might be motivated to leak a damaging bit of information before it’s too late.

Finally, it’s also worth remembering that presidents can greatly damage themselves by overreacting to leaks. The Watergate scandal came about because President Nixon was furious at leaks, and in an effort to “fight back” against leakers, his White House aides created the “plumbers” to retaliate against leakers and political opponents (because plumbers, you see, fix leaks). This eventually led to the botched Watergate break-in at the DNC headquarters. That didn’t play so well in the press, either.

Trump, Bannon et al may feel that they are invincible, the best anti-press revolutionary strategists ever.

But for all it’s faults the media is a many pronged and resilient combatant, spread around the US and around the world.

And all they have to do is observe, investigate and report. They don’t have to try and run the world’s biggest power and biggest bureaucracy at the same time.

Leave a comment


  1. High Flying Duck

     /  25th February 2017

    Meanwhile in his first 28 days business is getting done in the same manner, if not faster, than previous administrations. Where some see failure, others see…setting up a government:

    So far, Trump has signed at least 23 executive actions, signed five bills into law, seen 12 members of his Cabinet confirmed, nominated one justice to the Supreme Court, sent 168 (undeleted) tweets, fired one acting attorney general and demanded one resignation: that of his own national security adviser.



    The speed with which President Trump issued executive orders on pipelines, abortion, and trade deals in recent days has alarmed critics—but he’s not behaving very differently than his predecessor. Trump’s pace on executive orders is similar to that of Barack Obama, whose orders in his first week included one to close Gitmo within a year, though George W. Bush and Bill Clinton went a lot slower. Bustle describes the trend as a product of partisanship, with Trump following Obama’s lead in using the “absolute maximum of presidential power” without seeking the approval of Congress.


    How does Obama’s order to close Gitmo compare with the travel ban order?

    • David

       /  25th February 2017

      Exactly, Obama ruled by executive order because he was truly hopeless at reaching across the aisle and reaching consensus. The US doesnt run on a party basis, congress and the senators vote as to their and their constituents beliefs not the parties position. Bush, Bush senior and Clinton all worked both sides but Obama was a high minded professorial snob who couldnt even get his own side on board. The only thing he achieved was an awful health care plan which was significant in sinking Hillary that he had to pass as an add on to the budget rather than a piece of legislation that could stand on its own merits.
      The washington stenographers were absent from their duties and 63 million Americans voted for Trump for good reason.

  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  25th February 2017

    AC gets all excited when you call it war, PG. Or at least he does when I do. I think Trump is just following traditional Yankee tactics. When someone snipes at him he retalliates with a carpet bombing run. As their military have ever done.

  3. David

     /  25th February 2017

    Pete, with all due respect, the war that is being fought and won is by multi billionaire owners of failing media empires who,s ratings are going through the roof with the entertainment and faux horror of Trump.
    Take a deep breath and he has not reacted to provocation from North Korea but for the first time in forever China who was kicked in the teeth over 1 China has for the first time in forever actually got pissed off and taken action on Kim Jong Un. Trump has not reacted to Iran breaching their agreement in launching an ICM. He sent Mattis and Pence to Munich to re assure that NATO remains a US priority but EU needs to lift their game and Germany has stepped up already. Trump accepted the court ruling, despite disagreeing, and halted the 6 country immigration ban.
    The media need to face up to the fact that Trump was elected on promises he made and is implementing them which is how democracy should work, what he is doing is no surprise to anyone who was watching and yes he talks like a NY property developing billionaire so get used to it….Obama had the soaring rhetoric but was tits at running the place and achieved pretty much nothing.

  4. duperez

     /  25th February 2017

    Steve Bannon doesn’t like the “corporatist, globalist media.” So what exactly does Steve Bannon want? Steve Bannon or his friends controlling the media?

    Is Bannon against “corporatist, globalist” anything?


  5. Remember this?
    “Trump, Bannon et al may feel that they are invincible, the best anti-press revolutionary strategists ever.

    But for all it’s faults the media is a many pronged and resilient combatant, spread around the US and around the world.

    And all they have to do is observe, investigate and report. They don’t have to try and run the world’s biggest power and biggest bureaucracy at the same time.”

    I have read that a number of times, and after each reading the icicles in my back grow colder. It too me is a statement by the media, that they are all powerful. That is a real challenge to democracy. For a start, do Trump, Bannon et al feel they are invincible, the best anti-press revolutionary strategists ever?” Well I would think Churchill, Stalin, Trotsky, Plato, et al would hold their hands up and say what about us, eh?
    This press statement above is material evidence that the MSM have gone mad and now claim a political pre-eminence that they do not deserve. If all they did was to confine themselves to observe, investigate and report, then that would be enough to meet their US Constitutional role, but they have exceeded their remit and have become politicised, thereby losing all credibility.
    I accuse the media of prostituting their ethics for money and call upon them to acknowledge and admit their guilt. We have the evidence.

    • David

       /  25th February 2017

      well said

    • duperez

       /  25th February 2017

      If their ethic is to make money should they admit guilt as if they have done something wrong?

      • If I implied they were only after money, then you didn’t understand the equation of M=P.

        • duperez

           /  25th February 2017

          I’m the one implying they are only after money. I’ve inferred you think they should have some other raison d’être which involves some sort of ethics.

  6. I can go along with that duperez. They chase money because that gives them power. Whether their search for power is ethical or not depends on whether or not they have a sense of morality.

    • Blazer

       /  26th February 2017

      money has been the ‘end’ game since the 80’s.Greed has been applauded ,lauded,and hoarded.Civic virtue ,morality,integrity,transparency,and accountability….thats for….losers.

    • duperez

       /  26th February 2017

      You’ve used “ethics”, “sense of morality” and “power.” Back to Bannon. He wants rid of media outlets he thinks don’t have the first of those attributes and so abuse the last.

      That is they don’t fit his view of what those things should be and so wants to install others who do what he thinks is right. The answer to the old saying, “Who died and left him in charge?” is “the American people.”
      Paraphrasing it with other questions, “Who died and made him have the right to decide and what “ethics”, “sense of morality” are and how power should be used?” has the same answer.

      Who died and made him right though?

  7. That is all very philosophical Duperez, I can only repeat what Brucker said on 19 November 2008 “I for one think you state the case very well, although I doubt too many others will think so. I have often argued that with higher levels of power and knowledge come higher levels of authority. We acknowledge the authority of a parent over a child, a police officer over an ordinary citizen, a government over an individual, etc. Yet, somehow we can’t accept the idea of a higher-order being having an unparalleled authority over humanity in general.

    Yes, our non-existent God is guilty of daring to act like He’s God or something. How dare He? Who died and left Him in charge?” and leave it at that!

  8. In the final outcome I consider Trump to be using his business acumen and will try to win over his opposition, but if they do not respond positively he will attempt to destroy their credibility. His strategy is to gain acceptance of his story-line that there is no merit in pro-Russian claims by the opposition and that his election as President is legitimate. All else is second or lower tier priorities.


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