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Far-right Extremism

“Trumptastrophe”: Trump’s Hatred of the Media

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Welcome to our weekly “Trumptastrophe” series that serves to remind us all of the destructive policies, decisions, and actions we encountered during the Trump presidency and the threats that he and others in the MAGA movement still pose – and to keep those moments clear in our memory as we fight to defeat Republican extremists during the upcoming elections.

This week’s Trumptastrophe brings into focus how Trump and his MAGA Republican allies attempt to undermine any media coverage of him that isn’t favorable to the former president – while he was in office and during his current reelection campaign:

In mid-February 2017, just weeks after become president, Trump unleashed a series of attacks on the news media. Attacking the media was a Trump rally staple, and built on years of rhetoric from far-right organizations urging conservatives not to trust “the liberal media.” Typically, Trump pushed things to extremes.

On Feb. 16, Trump “devoted much of a 77-minute news conference to criticizing his press coverage,” according to the New York Times. Trump took things even further the next day, tweeting that the “FAKE NEWS media” is “the enemy of the American people,” adding, “SICK!” In his original tweet and a revised one sent shortly afterwards, he specifically targeted The New York Times, CNN, NBC, ABC, and CBS.

As the Times noted, Trump’s rhetoric “echoed the language of autocrats who seek to minimize dissent.” Journalist Carl Bernstein responded that Trump was “demonstrating an authoritarian attitude and inclination that shows no understanding of the role of the free press.”

The next day, Trump held a campaign-style rally to fire up his supporters and bask in their adoration. It featured sharp attacks on the news media, a model he would follow for the rest of his presidency.

A few days later, Trump spoke to right-wing activists at CPAC – the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he repeated his attacks on the media and his charge that “fake news” reporters are “very dishonest people” and “the enemy of the people.”

Trump’s hatred for the non-MAGA news media only grew at the end of his term, as journalists became more willing to call out his lies, especially his Big Lie that the election had been stolen from him.

More recently, as Trump has geared up his campaign to return to power, Trump and his allies have made it clearer than ever that they will follow the playbook of the foreign strongmen they admire and attack the freedom and independence of the press:

  • In November, Trump used his Truth social platform to attack MSNBC and call on the government to “come down hard on them” and “make them pay for their illegal political activity.”
  • MAGA activist and former Trump official Kash Patel, expected to have a senior administration job—possibly as head of the Central Intelligence Agency—if Trump returns to the White House, echoed his boss a few weeks later, threatening on Steve Bannon’s podcast that Trump will “come after” what he called “conspirators” in the media who “helped Joe Biden rig presidential elections.” Patel warned the media, “We’re going to come after you. Whether it’s criminally or civilly, we’ll figure that out.”
  • Boosting the threat of a second Trump term is Project 2025, a massive project led by the far-right Heritage Foundation and embraced by almost 100 organizations spanning the MAGA movement and right-wing religious, political, and legal infrastructure. One major premise of Project 2025 is to give the president virtually dictatorial power over the executive branch, including the FBI, Justice Department, and independent agencies like the Federal Communications Commission, so that Trump can use them as weapons against his personal and political enemies, including the media. “What we’re trying to do is identify the pockets of independence and seize them,” says former Trump official Russ Vought.
  • As Bruce Maiman noted in a HuffPost column:

Control of all federal branches would mean control of the Federal Communications Commission, which makes and enforces rules for television, radio and internet companies. You can imagine an effort to neutralize the power of a media that routinely has exposed Trump’s well-documented lies and improprieties.

“Domesticating” the media is a priority of autocrats, as is crafting a compliant judiciary, something Hungary’s Viktor Orbán succeeded in doing after taking office in 2012. It should surprise no one that in their 2019 White House meeting, Trump praised Orbán for doing “a tremendous job in so many different ways.”

  • Indeed, MAGA leaders revere the autocratic Orbán, who has contempt for the very idea of democratic checks and balances, and Trumpists have expressed their desires for Trump to take down media and civil society opposition the way Orbán has. At this year’s CPAC, a main-stage panel is being promoted with the theme, “Going Full Hungarian.”

These are just some of the reasons we need YOU in this fight. So, find your favorite way to unwind after reading through this week’s recap, and then make a plan for how you will fight back this week, this month, this election cycle.