The headline in the paper edition of today’s Washington Post reads: “Charity scrutiny riles up Trump” (the story is here) This is not the most biased headline ever to appear in the Post, but it clearly is designed to cast Trump in a bad light. As such, it corroborates Trump’s claim that the media is out to “make me look very bad.”
The Post follows up with a lead editorial denouncing Trump for attacking reporters he considers dishonest. “Mr. Trump is unapologetic about his intention to bully the press,” the Post’s editors complain.
The Post, naturally, is operating under the assumption that it, and other mainstream media outlets, are eminently fair. But at Power Line, we have spent 14 years trying to show that this isn’t true — that, in fact, the Post and other such organs are biased against and unfair towards Republicans and, above all, conservatives.
What if we are right? How should a Republican president behave towards reporters who are biased against him and the party he represents?
Aesthetically, I liked George W. Bush’s approach. He was “presidential.” I don’t recall him ever lashing out, or even criticizing, his media critics publicly (though, when he was running for president a live microphone picked up an unflattering exchange with Dick Cheney about a New York Times reporter).
But the aesthetically pleasing approach isn’t necessarily the best approach. And the abuse the media intends to hurl at Trump will exceed even that experienced by President Bush.
I see no reason why Trump shouldn’t call out reporters he thinks are treating him unfairly; nor do I see any reason why he shouldn’t criticize the media in general. The First Amendment offers broad protection of the ability of reporters to write what they wish. However, it does not protect them from sharp criticism about what they write.
The Post’s editors equate criticism with “bullying.” They would. The two are not equivalent, however.
It’s quite possible that, as president, Trump will bully the press. President Obama has. Jennifer Rubin cited several instances of bullying by the Team Obama. The victims included Bob Woodward and Ron Fournier.
I doubt that, if elected president, Trump will be more restrained than Obama — or less restrained than Hillary Clinton.
If and when Trump bullies the press, he should be criticized for it. But if all he does is push back publicly against stories he considers unfair — which is what he did yesterday regarding coverage of the charities — he should not be accused of bullying. He should only be criticized if his charge of unfairness is itself unfair.
The Post complains that Trump sometimes calls press stories “libelous.” It notes that he’s said he would “loosen” (Trump’s word) libel laws so that journalists could be “attacked” (the Post’s word; the right word is “sued”) more easily.
Trump cannot loosen the libel laws. That’s up to legislatures and to courts reviewing any “loosening” legislation in light of the First Amendment.
I happen to like the libel laws the way they are, but they aren’t set in stone. Great Britain has a different concept and is no less of a democracy for it.
Peter Wehner has written, shrewdly:
What Trump is doing is exactly what Rush Limbaugh and others have been begging Republican presidential candidates to do — to run a brutal, scorched-earth, anything-goes campaign. They now have their man.
I don’t advocate a brutal, scorched-earth, anything-goes campaign, and at times I have criticized the campaign Trump is running. But I confess to being happy that the Republican nominee will push back against attacks by the liberal, anti-Republican mainstream media, and I’m looking forward to the negotiations over debate moderators.