Did you notice one subtle play inserted into White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s tongue lashing to the media on Saturday? It wasn’t when he accused the media of tweeting intentionally disparaging photos or low-balling the inauguration attendance.
It was this:
The [CIA] employees were ecstatic that he’s their commander-in-chief, and he delivered them a powerful, important message. He told them he has their back. And they were grateful for that. They gave him a five minute standing ovation at the end, in a display of their patriotism, and their enthusiasm for his presidency. [emphasis mine]
Did you see what he did? The CIA employees “displayed their patriotism” by applauding President Trump, who had just attacked them a few weeks ago. Trump said in that speech that he was at war with the media. By linking enthusiasm for Trump with patriotism, the implication is clear: the press is guilty of insufficient patriotism.
Look for this theme to be repeated again and again as the Trump administration gets its footing in Washington. It will be done subtly and in small ways, and probably never directly, unless Trump gets on one of his 4 a.m. tweetstorms.
The press opposes Trump, so the press is insufficiently patriotic. That’s his message.
And it’s dangerous as all hell.
I freely admit the press is biased. To me, it’s obvious that they play to their bias. That’s human nature in many cases. But just because the press is liberal doesn’t mean that they don’t love America.
Patriotism is love of country, not enthusiasm for President Trump. I agree that Trump is providing a service by exposing the media’s bias, which has flourished and even increased after eight years of opposing George W. Bush and eight years of sycophantic devotion to Barack Obama. Trump seems to want the same devotion from the media, and is willing to break its back to get it. This is not healthy for our country.
There exists no mandate in America for an unbiased and completely truthful press. There never was one. There is a constitutional requirement that the press be free and unfettered from government interference, which includes censorship and reprisals.
Trump is skating on a very thin line. But he’s been doing this for decades, and he’s skillful at it. I believe Trump personally either wrote or approved Spicer’s statement, and he specifically included the bits about “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period” and the patriotism of the CIA employees. The first claim was a challenge to the media to go out and disprove it. The second was the subtle implication that the press is insufficiently patriotic.
As for the first claim, I predict that the Trump administration will come out with some live streaming numbers which back up their claim, while walking back the “in person” part of the statement.
Always keep in mind that Trump is a master at misdirection and message. The press is still learning this lesson the hard way. But when the president starts making patriotism about loyalty to himself, personally, that’s a very troubling path.