For the past year, pundits have repeatedly said, "Curses! Foiled again."
Some would say that Donald Trump is destroying the press on his way to the White House and they could be correct, but perhaps the press had already destroyed itself and Trump was the first politician to stand up to it, which made it fall. After all, most Americans no longer trust the media.
It's like the question: Did grandma fall and break her hip, or did she break her hip and fall? The difference is we care about grandma.
The power of the press eroded over the years because the press abused that power, just as the power of Nixon as president eroded because he abused that power. Trust is difficult to gain, easy to lose.
The media resents Trump because it blames him for its fall from grace. Jack Shafer, Politico’s senior media writer, wrote about it on Friday, in a piece called: "How Donald Trump Destroyed the Interview. A century-old political institution may have met its match."
Interviews of course are abused both by the conductor and the subject. Careful editing of remarks can make a subject look like a fool. However, subjects are now taping their interviews as protection, which Katie Couric recently discovered much to her horror. However, subjects can set restrictions and other conditions on their interviews. This is fine when an entertainer wants to promote her new project, or an author his new book. But when tough questions are off limits, the interview is a sham and a charade.
Indeed, according to Shafer, interviews have a dubious history:
The interview also changed the nature of presidential politics. At one time, getting a president’s views on the record meant quoting one of his speeches. Presidents would talk to reporters about the issues, but generally forbid them to quote the conversations because interviews seemed too familiar and undignified. That changed in 1867 when President Andrew Johnson, on the verge of being impeached, summoned correspondent Joseph B. McCullagh to the White House to hear and broadcast his side of the story. “The damn newspapers are as bad as the politicians in misrepresenting me,” Johnson told McCullagh, asking only to be quoted accurately. What Johnson instigated soon spread across the land, on to Europe, and eventually conquered all of journalism.And in the next paragraph, Shafer admitted interviews are about promoting the power of the press, not necessarily the truth:
The interview became indispensable to journalism not because it works as a truth detector, but because it established useful ground rules for news reporting. As an act of “impersonal surveillance”—Schudson’s term—the interview put news subjects (politicians, potentates, captains of industry) on notice that their words and action were being noted and recorded for posterity. This surveillance, in turn, creating a sort of “impersonal social control”—Schudson’s coinage, again—that kept some sort of semblance of order in the house of truth. Yes, news subjects could still use the interview form to lie, but at the price of being found out and humbled and shamed. Even Richard Nixon, as wily a liar ever to submit to an interview, could not escape its censuring power, as David Frost wore him down in a set of 1977 interviews and got him to apologize for his transgressions.This is not to disparage all interviews or malign journalists. I would say 95% are on the up-and-up, although there is a bit of a social justice warrior streak in the reporting staff.
But the bottom line is the bottom line of the column:
By rejecting the authority of the press to judge him, Trump has debilitated if not destroyed the power of the interview, befuddling a press corps that still believes it can bring him down with one more gotcha, one more “Pinocchio", one more “Pants On Fire" from the fact-checkers. Trump is laughing at them now.Did Trump make the media fall and break its credibility, or did the media break its credibility and fall? We know the answer.