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Trump’s love-hate relationship with media intensifies

US President Donald Trump. (Reuters)

At a campaign speech in August, Donald Trump pointed to a crowd of journalists covering the rally, and let rip.
“These people are the lowest form of life, I’m telling you,” he said of the journalists present, to some cheers from the crowd. “They are the lowest form of humanity.”
It was just one of several salvos in a long-running battle between Trump and the Fourth Estate — and one that experts tip will only get worse now that the 45th US president has taken office.
Just days before his inauguration, Trump said he plans to keep tweeting his views as the “only way to counteract… a very dishonest media.”
And the war with the mainstream media shows no sign of abating now Trump is in office. Just hours into his presidency, a row erupted over media coverage of Trump’s inauguration, specifically over the size of the crowd that gathered in Washington to see him sworn in. Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Saturday took aim at some media outlets’ coverage of the inauguration, with the White House offering a vastly higher estimate of the size of the crowd that was present.
While Trump has slammed outlets for purveying “fake news”, he is — ironically, perhaps — on good terms with the far-right Breitbart News outlet, which itself has been accused of carrying bogus, or exaggerated stories.
On the campaign trail, Trump maligned the “dishonest media,” slammed mainstream media outlets for being “biased” and even, during one rally, mocked a disabled reporter.
But it has not been a one-sided battle. The New York Times published a memorably blunt letter from its lawyer, detailing why it was refusing to retract an article that featured two women accusing Trump of touching them inappropriately years ago.
And BuzzFeed recently took the controversial decision to publish a dossier alleging Russia has compromising information on Trump — despite the document having not been verified, and previously having been rejected by other media outlets.
More prosecutions of journalists?
Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan told AFP she expects a “hellish” time under President Trump. She expects Trump to “punish journalists for doing their jobs” and suspects his administration will be “awash in investigations and prosecutions of journalists.”
In a sign, perhaps, of how the relationship will play out, Trump’s administration last week signaled it may seek to remove reporters from their long-time home in the West Wing, which some journalists have interpreted as an assault on the freedom of the press.
But experts say that, despite his obvious disdain for the profession, Trump needs the media and the media needs Trump. It is just a typical a love-hate relationship.
Prof. Mark Feldstein, professor of Broadcast Journalism at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism — University of Maryland, described it as a “codependent” relationship.
“As much as Trump and the media may hate each other, they also need each other,” Feldstein told Arab News. “Trump uses the media as a foil and to get his message out and the media uses Trump to attract an audience.”
But the relationship is certainly a difficult one, Feldstein points out.
“The mainstream media’s relationship with Trump has been exceedingly contentious, more so than with any other president in history. Trump has vilified individual reporters, the news outlets they work for, and the institution of the press as a whole. At the same time, in the past few months elite media organizations have aggressively exposed Trump’s professional and personal scandals — quite fairly as a whole, in my opinion,” he said.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, said that the mainstream US media and Trump have had a “contentious” relationship to date. Now Trump has been sworn in, she expects the media to be more critical of him, but that the US president will continue to exploit the media.
“Parts of mainstream press are now in an adversarial rather than a skeptical posture toward Trump,” Jamieson told Arab News.
Christopher Wells, associate professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the media’s relationship with Trump “evolved over the course of the campaign.”
While some coverage was positive — such as the details of the size of Trump’s rallies — some of the media’s treatment of the then Republican candidate could be deemed “unfair,” Wells said.
“Some media did not take him particularly seriously, especially in the earlier stages of the campaign. In that sense, I think we saw the mainstream press underestimating Trump’s appeal to a large segment of the public,” Wells told Arab News.
“The press was also shocked that Trump would withstand the criticism of some of his own more outlandish statements, which seemed to break the known rules of running for office — but this did not stop them from printing stories about them, which they found was a great way to generate ratings. Additionally, the fact that trust in the US press is at historically low levels — and is incredibly low for Trump’s supporters especially — added to this.”

Dominating the news
Feldstein pointed out that, as a former reality TV star, Trump certainly knows how to manipulate the media.
“Trump has exploited the institutional weaknesses of the media by manipulating its insatiable appetite for constant controversy; he has dominated the news day after day, month after month with his tweets and outrageous statements, which overwhelm and drown out voices that otherwise might be heard,” Feldstein told Arab News.
“As a former TV reality star, he knows how to generate drama and ratings, leading television networks to cover him live constantly in ways they have never done before with other politicians because the networks make so much money from the bigger audiences that tune in to watch the spectacle.”
And as president, Trump now holds even more power.
“He will try to restrict and control the news media as much as he can. He will avoid unscripted news conferences, grant access to favored conservative reporters and increase government secrecy wherever he can. He will be vocal when he does not get positive news coverage and will try to go over the heads of the media directly to the public, through tweets, speeches, and scripted events,” said Feldstein.
“It will be a very acrimonious four years between the president and the press.”