Feb 16, 2017

The media IS the opposition party

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

President Trump claims traditional media represent a stronger, more effective opposition party than the Democrats. So far, he's undeniably correct.

This has only a little to do with the Democrats. They have no power in Congress, so no real oversight authority, and few high-profile voices since Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama exited the stage. Rarely do you see Democrats shaping the conversation about President Trump.

It has a lot to do with the media, which was unambiguously anti-Trump during and after the presidential campaign, but is now legitimately hammering away on administration scandals and missteps. A snarling press corps is turning ravenous.

The media — often, but not always, with an assist from anti-Trump career government employees — is the new U.S. Oversight Committee. The Washington Post exposed national security adviser Mike Flynn's deceptive statements about his Russian contacts, then kept up the drumbeat until he resigned shortly after the paper had posted another devastating story, this one revealing that the White House had been warned last month that he was vulnerable to blackmail.

This week, The New York Times and CNN broke twin stories reporting Trump campaign aides were "in constant contact" with Russians. The committee's most effective members have been the Post (Greg Miller, Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima), and Times investigative reporters led by Mike Schmidt (who also broke the story that Hillary Clinton used a private server in office).

Some of the mainstream media's Trump anti-coverage once was stoked by ideology. Now, the tsunami is being fed by facts and revelations that cause many reporters to feel that their instincts have been vindicated.

And there is no incentive for reporters to calm down, take a breath, give Trump the benefit of the doubt. With Trump's frequent, gleeful attacks on the press, anyone seen as going soft on him looks like a chump. Trump feeds these fears on a near-daily basis.

Journalists have responded by uniting in their opposition. You see this with the sharing, applauding and echoing the critical coverage by their colleagues. And constant reminders to the public to subscribe to the New York Times, Washington Post and other outlets doing a lot of the Trump investigating. These reminders are working, especially for the Times. In what the media website Poynter called a "Trump-bump subscription surge," the Times recorded record net quarterly growth for digital subscriptions at the end of last year, with the momentum continuing into this year.

Trump gets very little positive coverage, and probably won't. The conservative Media Research Center said coverage of Trump on the network evening newscasts during the fall was 91% hostile. That's probably an exaggeration, but the point is no doubt true, and the coverage certainly hasn't become any rosier since the inauguration, with the president's approval rating near 50 percent in a divided country.

Just like the campaign, it isn't clear the media is winning the PR battle. Remember: the public has more distrust of media than Trump. Two polls show Trump's favorable rating in high 40s, and a strong stock market and steady flow of companies bowing to the president on creating US jobs could keep it there, absent even more serious revelations.

In the meantime, the White House game of thrones is so intense that Trump can't even count on his allies. Breitbart, despite its close ties to the administration, ran an article Tuesday reporting that Trump "has been privately critical of Priebus in many settings."

So Trump and senior strategist Steve Bannon are clearly right about the media being the opposition. What was once a useful foil for Trump is becoming a real danger to his ability to control the national conversation — and govern.

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