Mr. Trump obviously recognizes the media’s desire to star in the story, and he’s trying to exploit it, conflating the most theatrical political journalism with the broad, dogged and often revelatory work of reporting. He has put the brand-name establishment media on the ballot in November. He’d clearly be as happy running against NBC-New York Times-CNN-Atlantic as he is running against Joe Biden. When a CNN reporter asked him last week about violence by his supporters, he replied that “your supporters” shot a man in Portland, Ore., implying that she was responsible for the fatal shooting of a Trump supporter, Aaron Danielson.
If you watch Fox News, you see every day how the Republican Party defines itself as a party driven by grievance more than any specific policy, and grievance against the media is its highest form. It even appears in the one-page document that stands in for a Republican Party platform.
Mr. Trump’s great gift is for polarization, and he’s driven many of the people who hate him to love journalism, particularly its most dramatic forms, with a new passion. Watch cable news to see the benefits to playing the role of the outraged television journalist. The White House beat was, before Mr. Trump, a dull hostage situation, with reporters shackled to a never-ending, often empty, sequence of ritualized events and briefings. Now, it’s an ongoing morality play about Truth, in which reporters become famous as they confront Mr. Trump for lying, and the president delights his base by berating them. At its most revealing, it exposes his particular antagonism for blunt questions from women. But it’s also another irresistible opportunity for Mr. Trump to posture for the cameras.
Lewis Raven Wallace, the author of a provocative new case against detached, “objective,” journalism called The View From Somewhere, takes it further, arguing that reporters should get out of the White House briefing room entirely. “If they are serious about safeguarding democracy, they need to be building collective power around not even being in that room anymore” Mr. Wallace said in an interview.
But in the for-profit world of the media business, the incentives of both subscription sales and personal brand-building pull journalists in the opposite direction. Operators in the subscription business — which includes cable and a growing share of online and print outlets — have found success in telling you what you want to hear, and in signaling that they are, in some sense, on your team.