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President Trump’s Anti-Media Remarks Could Serve as Rallying Cry

Variety logo Variety 2/24/2017 Variety Staff
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President Trump’s continued remarks inveighing against the media are seen as oppressive and even authoritarian. But the news outlets that serve as the target for such opprobrium might be inspired by such comments, rather than abused by them.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, the President told attendees d that media outlets should not be allowed to use unnamed sources in their reporting, even though his administration earlier in the day conducted a background briefing to deliver information to reporters. “I’m against the people that make up stories and make up sources,” Trump said. “They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name. Let their name be put out there. Let their name be put out.” He also accused certain outlets of making up their own sources for stories, and warned the White House would “do something about” media outlets he characterized as “dishonest.”

For most news organizations, the answer has been simple: Continuing to follow an already-extant mission of providing facts and relevant information.

“For the president, the media is both a useful political target and one of the biggest threats to his presidency,” noted Peter Slevin, an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. “By hammering reporters as dishonest purveyors of fake news, Trump simultaneously rallies his fans and lays the groundwork for dismissing fair-minded journalism as the work of partisan hacks. The same calculus is at work when Steve Bannon, his White House advisor, pretends the media is ’the opposition party.’ Many people will believe them, unfortunately, but the sun will rise every morning in newsrooms across America and reporters will do their jobs.”

Many news outlets are doing just that. In response to the President’s comments Friday that he did not believe a recent story that cited nine different sources, The Washington Post quickly defended a February 9 story reporting that Michael Flynn, then the National Security Adviser, had discussed sanctions in a late December conversation with the Russian ambassador despite denying that it had been a topic. Flynn stepped own after the story, which cited nine different sources, appeared.

“Everything we published regarding Gen. Flynn was true, as confirmed by subsequent events and on-the-record statements from administration officials themselves,” said Marty Baron, the executive editor of The Washington Post, in a statement released after the President’s speech,  “The story led directly to the general’s dismissal as national security adviser. Calling press reports fake doesn’t make them so,” he said.

Major TV-news outlets reached Friday declined to comment on the President’s comments about the press made at CPAC.

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