On his first day in office, President Trump issued a declaration of war.
It was not a declaration of war against a foreign government. It was a declaration of war against a branch of the U.S. government, the unofficial but constitutionally protected fourth branch, the press.
During a speech at CIA headquarters, our new president said, “I have a running war with the media.”
He was piqued because of press reports that the crowds for his inauguration was reported at lower numbers than those for the two Obama inaugurations. After 20 years in newsrooms, let me observe that crowd estimation is a very imprecise undertaking. It is not a science; they vary widely.
Of those reporting lower crowd numbers, he added, “They’re going to pay big time.”
His press secretary Sean Spicer used numbers from ridership on the Washington D.C. subway to refute the Trump-Obama crowd comparisons. But he used the wrong numbers. Here are the ridership numbers dug out by the Wall Street Journal: Friday for Trump’s inauguration, 570,557; for Obama’s 2013 inauguration, 782,000; and 1.1 million for the 2009 Obama event.
Nonetheless, it’s not that big of a deal either way. Who cares? Only a person who cares way down deep about ratings, an entertainer, would care enough to declare war on the media that counted lesser numbers. Further, most entertainers would not make a big deal of the different counts.
Since I compiled 105 valid reasons to vote against the real estate mogul during his campaign for the Oval Office, and failed to convince enough people to do so, even in my home Washington County, I called a timeout between his election and his inauguration
I wanted to keep an open mind about his performance as president. Words, especially his words, mean little. I choose to watch his feet. But it’s not that words mean nothing.
In the case of the Fourth Estate, his war of words with the press is complicated. Many would agree that he played the mainstream press like a fiddle during the campaign. He used social media to turn them inside out. In their confusion, they gave him unending headlines, and his notoriety played well with enough factions to get him elected.
So, the media helped mightily to get him elected. Instead of gratitude, he chooses to continue to use reporters and editors as a piñata. “Dishonest” reporters are his straw men.
I have been on both sides of government, having served as a newsman and as a press aide to a cabinet member in the first Nixon Administration, and I can assure you that the government has only partial interest in telling the whole truth about matters of state. Only the press can get out a semblance of the whole story.
I have known hundreds of reporters, both as their manager and as someone reported on in business and politics. They are paid poorly, so most of them do it because it is their calling. I have only known a few who were unreliable or dishonest.
None of them are perfect. They all have biases as they approach a story, whether they admit it or not. But most American reporters try to filter out their own points of view. They are trained to be accurate, but do make an occasional mistake. Most media sources correct their mistakes.
Pundits, columnists, talk show hosts and editorial writers, of course, express a point of view. Trump has his views, and they have theirs. Some support him on some issues, and many oppose him. That’s the dialog of a democracy. He is not a king or emperor.
But Trump’s war is seldom with the opinion writers. It is usually with work-a-day reporters or interviewers just trying to get a story straight.
From what we have seen so far, those reporters are going to have a tough four years digging out the reality of what is going on in the president’s head.
If they start taking more hits from President Trump and a running war really ensues, I am on the side of the reporters. I’ll get a far straighter story from them than him.
John Torinus is the chairman of Serigraph Inc. in West Bend. He is involved with several business and civic organizations and is the author of “The Company That Solved Health Care.”