Donald Trump, George Bush, and the press

George W. Bush is a good man. The mainstream media hammered him mercilessly and mostly unfairly for eight years. One media mainstay tried to take Bush down late in the 2004 campaign with fake news.

Yet, Bush spoke up for the embattled mainstream media today. He called it “indispensable to democracy.”

Politico portrays this as “a break from the position of his fellow Republican, President Donald Trump, who has called the press ‘the enemy of the American people’.” This may, indeed, be how Bush intended his statement to be viewed.

There is no inconsistency, though, between calling the press indispensable to democracy and labeling the press we have “the enemy of the American people.” (Note, though, that I don’t agree with President Trump’s characterization).

Trump never denied that the role of the press is central in our democracy. In fact, he implied the opposite when he said he’d be doing the American people a “tremendous disservice” if he didn’t highlight the press’ dishonesty. If the press lacked an important role to play in our democracy, it wouldn’t be much of a “disservice” for Trump to let its dishonestly slide.

Trump wasn’t disputing the vital role of the press, he was attacking its performance of that role. The way the press reports the news is what (in Trump’s view) makes it the enemy of the people.

The real question is what, if anything, Trump intends to do in response. As long he confines himself to criticism, occasional pettiness, and (in extraordinary cases) legal action consistent with the First Amendment and other applicable law, there’s no problem. If, for other than valid national security purposes, he truly interferes with the ability of the press to perform its work (whether honestly or dishonestly), then we will have a serious problem on our hands.

We don’t now, though.

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