The conflict between journalists and Republican presidents is nothing new. Journalists sought to tear apart the image of President Nixon and describe him as a thief and a liar and ignored all his accomplishments, which still influence our world today. He opened the door of world order which China entered from after taking off its Communist clothing. President Nixon had a famous sharp exchange with journalist Dan Rather, and journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein managed to make him quit.
During the past years, this media attacked President Bush Jr. ignoring his important achievements that served the world by destroying the al-Qaeda organization, the most dangerous terrorist group in the modern era. If he hadn’t taken this important step after the September 11, 2001 attacks, al-Qaeda would have probably been stronger, its leader Osama bin Laden would have been sitting on his throne in Kandahar and he wouldn’t have been killed with his body dumped in the depths of the Arabian Sea. Despite all this, the media pictured him in unfair and negative way and exaggerated his mistakes and ignored his good deeds.
Trump's supporters also saw him as a stubborn fighter who did not keep silent, like his Republican predecessors did, over the insults and criticism directed against him by journalists who describe them as racists and naïve rural people whose characteristics are mythical piousnessMamdouh AlMuhaini
Journalists versus Republicans
It’s an old battle with partisan motives. These journalists prefer the Democrats over the Republicans for internal social and economic reasons. This is why their criticism decreases with any Democratic president and increases with any Republican president. What’s new is that this battle has entered a different stage with Trump who refused to bite his tongue.
Former Republican presidents were polite and they responded to slaps with smiles under the pretext of maintaining the status of the presidency. However, they paid the price of that by having their image distorted with the absence of a conservative media that can protect them and defend them.
Trump threw away all of these old traditions and dumped them in the trash bin and decided to get involved himself and respond to attacks with counter-attacks. Some rightfully thought he was making a fatal mistake when he made an enemy of the leftist liberal press when he was a presidential candidate given the massive power of the media that’s capable of burying whoever comes in its way. In a suicide mission, Trump opted for a confrontation and he won despite all the propaganda against him and despite the media’s frank support of his rival.
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This unexpected victory revealed several points. First of all, the attack on Trump when he was still a presidential candidate did not weaken him, but increased his popularity among his supporters who saw he was confronting these intensified campaigns alone and winning in the end. His supporters also saw him as a stubborn fighter who did not keep silent, like his Republican predecessors did, over the insults and criticism directed against him by journalists who describe them as racists and naïve rural people whose characteristics are mythical piousness.
Although Trump is a New Yorker, a rich and worldly figure and not religious, he managed to mobilize these angry masses behind him by not submitting and by defying the arrogant elite in Los Angeles and New York. Millions were shocked when he described a famous broadcaster who insulted him as a “fat cow” and as he responded to Hillary Clinton’s attack saying she was a “nasty woman.” The Republican audience never knew a candidate who broke all the classical traditions of poise and politeness and responded to their rivals with the same harsh language they are using.
If Trump had been defeated, we would have seen his move as the stupidest move a candidate could make because the media is the party that makes the image of the politician, but his victory tipped the scale and confused journalists before anyone else.
Trump’s victory made him realize that the media and political game changed and that conditions that applied to his predecessors do not apply to him. He refused to listen to the advice of some of his consultants who advised him to enjoy a certain presidential manner and stop tweeting and he did the opposite relying on his instincts and hunch.
He increased the tone of confrontation because he knew that silence over the journalists’ attacks will weaken him, destroy his image and distort his achievements. This is what we saw during the past two years when the media pursued him over every single detail and sought not only to embarrass him and weaken him but to expel him from the White House.
They pursued him like witches were hunted down in the Middle Ages in order to burn his image under the pretext of the Russian meddling and appointing conservative judges in the Supreme Court. The aim was to distort his achievements in the economy and topple him. However, the results of the recent mid-term elections are evidence of his popularity and the power of his electoral base and they also revealed that the media which opposes him could not win over him.
What is interesting in all of this is that the market of journalism revived with this endless fervent match, and sales and the ratio of views increased. This is an additional reason for the media coverage to be almost completely on President Trump, his family, food, relations with women and the tiny details of his life. The sharp exchange of words between him and CNN’s Jim Acosta comes within this context.
Trump is benefitting from this media attack on him on the electoral and political level, and journalists are also financially benefitting and gaining popularity from throwing stones at him; however, they are only capable of wounding him but not finishing him off. Trump will kneel on his knees if the economy weakens and unemployment increases and his supporters will topple him before his rivals do, but so far this seems distant.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain.