Donald Trump basically declared war on the media while running his campaign, but how bad is their relationship really? “It wasn’t until I became a politician, that I realized how nasty, how mean, how vicious and how fake the press can be,” Trump said at the Davos Conference. The president has used the press to his advantage, both before and during his campaign. Here’s just a few of the ways the “war on the media” has worked out great for the president.
Trump’s press treatment is more presidential than you think
The president’s dealings do not actually come as that surprising to historians. “All administrations are critical of the press,” said Timothy Naftali, professor of history at New York University. The former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library added, “What’s unprecedented about Trump is the level of public animosity, which is a continuous drumbeat.”
Trump’s public attack on the press also fits nicely into his reality-TV persona. While campaigning, he created a blacklist of nearly half a dozen news organizations that he banned from receiving media credentials. The LA Times reports that he once called supporters the “last line of defense against the media’s hit jobs.”
Next: He once spent big bucks trying to get these men in jail.
He tried to get these men convicted
In 1989, after five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem stood accused of assaulting and raping a white woman in Central Park, Trump spent $85,000 placing full-page ads in the four daily papers in New York City, calling for the return of the death penalty.
“Muggers and murderers should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.” He did not refer to them by name, The New York Times reports. At the time, the case made big enough news at the time that he did not have to. The men later got exonerated but Trump never recanted. “They admitted they were guilty,” he later told CNN. “The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous.”
Next: The president also spread this story using the media he now “hates.”
Trump used the press to spread this theory
The president essentially launched his political career on the back of his “birther” theory, that President Barack Obama was born outside the U.S. Long after Obama released his birth certificate, he continued spouting off conspiracy theories to the press as late as 2015. He used media appearances to spread the fake news, appearing on multiple news shows to discuss it. In 2016, Trump finally said that “President Barack Obama was born in the United States.” We know, Donald. Everyone knows.
Next: He used this network to boost his own popularity.
Back in the day, Trump’s hit TV show ran on NBC
“It does so happen that Jeff Zucker was in positions during the career of Donald Trump where he had the opportunity to use [him] to his advantage on the air, ” Robert Thompson of Syracuse University told The Wrap. “‘The Apprentice’ was very good for NBC,” he noted. “It fashioned and reshaped Donald Trump for a new audience, many of whom didn’t even know who he was when that show started.” Zucker, who now works for CNN, does not regret the mutually beneficial relationship.
“That’s the legacy part that I play in furthering Donald Trump’s career,” Zucker told Fortune. “I have no regrets about ‘The Apprentice’ or any of that, it was absolutely the right decision.”
Next: That relationship could have gone even further.
The network once tried to run Trump’s wedding
Zucker routinely turned to Trump for ratings spikes, including attempting to televise the mogul’s wedding back in 2005. “I was actually surprised that Jeff Zucker didn’t make me do it,” Trump told Digital Spy back in 2005. “They could’ve done very well on that wedding.” The president knows what does well in the media, as a former reality TV star, and he plays right to it. CBS Chairman Les Moonves said that Trump “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
Next: As president, Trump does not blacklist the press as much as you think.
He delivers big news right to his favorites
Vox points out that Trump actually hands news exclusives right to the media he professes to hate. For example, he sat for an exclusive interview with Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush of the New York Times, and routinely calls Haberman with information. He additionally woos the Times and the Washington Post regularly. The rising executive even paid a visit to the Times’s headquarters during the transition. In fact, when the American Health Care Act began collapsing, Trump broke the news with unprompted calls to Haberman and to the Post’s Robert Costa. For all of his “fake news” crowing, he goes out of his way to court them.
Next: Trump also uses the media to distract the American people.
The president is a master of diversion
Trump knows he can take control of the news cycle with something as small as a well-placed tweet. In September, when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the GOP’s congressional agenda took a nosedive, Trump went into damage control. He lashed out at kneeling NFL protesters, creating a multi-week firestorm that only served to distract America from the real issues. Just about every time his governance starts to go south, he throws up a shiny object on social media. The media falls for it, almost every time.
Next: The former reality TV star does not shy away from getting into the media game.
He plays the media against each other
On the night Trump boycotted a debate co-hosted by Megyn Kelly, he granted an interview to CNN reporter Brianna Keilar instead. “Even a critical story, which may be hurtful personally, can be very valuable to your business,” Trump said in The Art of the Deal. He recalled that lesson after the press attacked him for a gaudy skyscraper he wanted to build. “The point,” he said, “is that we got a lot of attention, and that alone creates value.”
Next: Trump knows that value and uses it to his advantage.
The president’s ‘war’ on the media works for him
Just look at the “fake news awards” to see how Trump uses the media to distract from real issues. “It says so much about our current media moment that the president would announce plans to shame news organizations with his first-annual ‘Fake News Awards’ and every reporter would be praying to God they made the list,” wrote Kyle Pope of the Columbia Journalism Review.
Trump seemingly cares more about his coverage than his actual duties. “Trump’s Reality Show White House has been an unstoppable force, dominating our attention, coarsening our politics, making us angrier and more afraid and more distant from each other. In this, he’s succeeding — winning, even.”
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