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Opinion: Letters from "the enemy"

By Will Costello
On February 19, 2017

It’s not a secret that Donald Trump doesn’t like the media very much. Whether this is because of an actual hatred of the press or simply because media-bashing acts as catnip for his supporters, or a bit of both, we’ll probably never know. But his distaste for reporters and their apparent contempt for him in return highlights an important issue in modern media: journalists and the subjects of their coverage have been awfully chummy for an awfully long time. It might not be the worst thing in the world for reporters to find their roguish side once again.

The reaction that journalists had to being called the enemy of the American people was interesting for this very reason. Insults issuing from the iPhone of Donald Trump are nothing new, but journalists responded to his latest tweet with more shock and outrage that John McCain did when Trump disputed his war-hero status. Pictures of reporters who have been killed overseas sprouted out of newsfeeds above the hashtag #nottheenemy. 

To me, this smelled a little too self-righteous. First off, the reporters covering Syria and the ones who covered the Iraq war in the previous decade are not the ones that Donald Trump is complaining about. He’s complaining about political reporters who work from desks in Washington D.C. And yeah, we’re all one big happy media family, and if you insult one, you insult them all. But the people who pissed off Trump are the ones who wrote stories that he didn’t like. 

And that’s a good thing. That is what they should be doing. Trump has a group of followers who are willing to disbelieve anything critical of him. Reporters don’t write stories for people who don’t believe facts. And the news that subscriber numbers for newspapers have skyrocketed post-Trump seems to be a sign that there are at least as many people looking for facts as there are people looking to dispute them.

Meanwhile, at the top of the list of people Trump has complimented, we can find Vladimir Putin, the guy who killed some of those reporters whose pictures were being shared. Not great company to be in. Meanwhile, John McCain, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, Super Bowl LI and Samuel L. Jackson are all on the list of things Trump has insulted. Appearing on that list strikes me as an honor. 

Getting a little more punk-rock into their personas could do journalists some good. Part of the complaint against the mainstream media is that it has become too elitist, too coastal, and too posh. If reporters can manage to react to stories with sharp-eyed skepticism rather than the sort of pearl-clutching that they often approach stories about Trump, maybe they could earn back some of the trust that they have lost. There will always be a part of society that will deem coverage they don’t like “fake news,” and there will always be presidents and officials who don’t like the media. Who cares? Criminals don’t like cops, Wall Streeters don’t like regulators, and politicians don’t like reporters. When criminals start lauding the police, we’ll have a serious problem. When politicians start praising the press, we’ll have an even bigger one.

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