Donald Trump vs. The Media: Who Will Win the War? | Analysis

Since Donald Trump took office as President of the United State he has consistently portrayed the media as a force for evil against him.

It began in his first press conference and has continued throughout. "Bashing media organizations may be Donald Trump's most consistent hobby," wrote The Economist.

President Trump has defined "fake news" as any report he deems unfavorable, political- and media-watchers say, and he has intensified the attacks throughout his term, which began in early 2017. The latest, today, was perhaps his most vicious yet:

"The Fake News hates me saying that they are the Enemy of the People only because they know it's TRUE," President Trump tweeted Sunday morning. "I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American People. They purposely cause great division & distrust. They can also cause War! They are very dangerous & sick!"

The suggestion that the media can cause war and are "very dangerous & sick" sent ripples through the media around the world.

"This is outrageous," tweeted Chuck Todd, NBC News Political Director, in response. "I'm sorry, I don't know what else to say to someone accusing me and my colleagues of causing war. I know he's baiting us to respond. I'm taking the bait in hopes that rational folks realize this is wrong and dangerous."

The Economist reported last week that Trump's attacks on the media may have backfired, with trust in the media up since they began. But recent experience with a newspaper in the south revealed something different.

As publisher of the small daily The Oxford Eagle, in the college town of Oxford, Mississippi, we had a mix of readers, about half conservative and half liberal. Immediately after President Trump started bashing the media, calls came from some of our more conservative subscribers to stop delivering their paper.

"Can't stand the fake news," one told me.

Never mind that we rarely ran national news and when we did it was robust reporting, typically from the Associated Press. Our conservative readers were responding to Trump's rhetoric. He said the media was terrible, they didn't want it anymore.

The calls to stop delivery did make us assess coverage, however. And to my surprise, something was revealing beyond occasional AP national story. Most syndicated cartoonists and columnists were consistently bashing Trump with little balance for anything good he had done. When we went searching for pro-Trump cartoons from syndicates, cartoons that spoke more to the views of those who support Trump, we could not find them.

The editorial views were not in accord with the balance we had in subscribers, nor were they in agreement with those of our readers who believe Trump is the best President this country has ever elected.

"He's standing up for us," one reader told me. "That's more than I can say about the media."

That's why President Trump keeps bashing the media. As the pressure turns up on him, with the Mueller special counsel investigation deepening and former lawyer Cohen perhaps flipping as a witness, Donald Trump is using his words as a weapon on his behalf. Discredit the media as capable of causing war and of being the most despicable people on earth, and anything negative written against him can be discarded as garbage with his faithful.

Experience says many believe that.

And, the problem is that either side can find evidence to support their claim, since most media has some sway. Fox is widely recognized as conservative, while NBC News is tagged as leaning liberal, for example. This chart helps explain.

Some say the President's antagonistic approach intensified in part because news organizations like The New York Times, considered liberal, didn't take him seriously as a candidate. The paper gave Hillary Clinton an 85 percent chance of winning even as votes were counted on election night.

Thus, Trump saw that mainstream media is disconnected from some of America and he went on the attack. He had a point. But suggesting the media is not fair is different than aggressive attacks like the media is "dangerous" and "sick" and capable of causing "war."

This latest outburst leaves us in a sort of cold war, with President of the United States Donald Trump lobbing nukes against a media that he deems his opposition. Fear seems to be bubbling up on both sides, with evidence that significant damage has been done with more to come.

We can only ask the simple, obvious question at this point: Who will win this war?

The media has the United States Constitution on its side. The First Amendment makes clear that America is based upon freedom of the press. The President of the United States is not actively supporting the constitution when he suggests a free press can cause war.

Ultimately, the U.S. Constitution should hold its ground, with the media able to continue. The right to bear arms (as enshrined in the second amendment) has survived much worse, after all. Damage is being done, however.

Most big news organizations like The New York Times, CNN or NBC News are thriving in this environment by many accounts. The deeper Trump digs, the better they do. But in the south many rural publications likely can't say the same. It's the voter in those areas that connects with Trump, hearing his message loud and clear that media is the enemy. They don't read the New York Times, not before and certainly not now.

When they hear the media, it's the local paper they know. That's why community media will pay the price if President Trump keeps this up.

As for all media, most every organization can benefit by taking a step back, looking beyond the President's vicious attacks and focusing on the more significant point, assessing if it is truly serving the First Amendment with fair coverage. President Trump complains in language that is disrespectful, if not dangerous.

But, many in the heartland will swear he's got the point. Some organizations should take a look.

Ultimately, this war, like all wars, will have no real winner. The media will outlast Donald Trump because of the First Amendment. But a price will be paid. We're just waiting to see how big that price is.

David Magee is a contributing editor, a former community newspaper publisher, and the author of a dozen non-fiction books, including How Toyota Became #1 (Penguin).