One year ago, I counseled Trump’s many detractors to pace themselves. Following Donald Trump’s shock election, the permanent political class had gone through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining and depression, but the time had come for acceptance.
Twelve months on and acceptance is nowhere to be found. Every news cycle brings another round of hyperventilation — sometimes two or three rounds.
Yes, Trump was and remains a very different sort president, especially following a polished politico like Barack Obama. But, as I said back then, “It’s going to be a long four years, and there will be plenty of real decisions to get outraged about. If you keep losing your mind every time Donald Trump acts like Donald Trump, you’re going to guarantee a long eight years.”
I’m as shocked as you are that the D.C. press corps completely ignored my advice. The hysteria has continued unchecked with breathless reports of impending impeachment only to produce embarrassing corrections soon after. The media malpractice has only gotten worse of late.
Two weeks ago, Brian Ross of ABC News falsely reported that Donald Trump had instructed Michael Flynn to contact Russian officials during the presidential campaign. His blockbuster collusion news ignited a media frenzy and sent the stock market tumbling.
Hours later, ABC News “clarified” that this had actually occurred during the transition and, therefore, had nothing to do with foreign influence on the 2016 election. Ross was suspended for four weeks and barred from reporting on Trump ever again.
Last week, The Wall Street Journal claimed that special counsel Robert Mueller had subpoenaed Trump’s financial records from Deutsche Bank. The newspaper was forced to correct their stories, as that had never happened. Trump’s spokesperson and his lawyer both savaged the press over the widely-reported error.
On Friday, CNN falsely claimed that Trump, his son and others received access to stolen DNC emails nine days before WikiLeaks released them online. Once again, CNN was forced to correct the record when they learned the campaign only received the documents after they were made public to everyone.
All of these false reports only add fuel to the fire of Trump’s accusations of “fake news.” He mocked CNN on Twitter and said that investors ought to sue ABC News over their error.
The president even took his criticism on tour. “Did you see all the corrections the media’s been making?” Trump told a rally in Florida. “They’ve been apologizing left and right.”
CNN’s Brian Stelter critiqued the president’s statement, triumphantly noting that CNN corrected their story “but did not apologize.” Meanwhile, the news organization refused to discipline the reporters for their embarrassing error.
When faced with a chief executive as petulant as Trump, D.C. media figures had a golden opportunity to serve as the adults in the room. Instead, many quickly sunk to his level, snarking about his tweets on social media, filing false reports about his misdeeds, and shrieking over the pettiest of non-stories. (Remember when Melania wore heels to fly to a hurricane zone?)
Their eagerness to take down the president, especially on the Russia collusion story, has produced a frantic year with lots of smoke but little fire.
As I said a year ago, the Beltway media has to take a long, deep breath. Check and double-check the reporting. Thoroughly vet any bombshell claims. Focus on getting it right instead of on getting it first. The press can only hold the powerful accountable if citizens can trust their journalism.
If the media wants Trump’s “fake news” rap to stop sticking, they need to stop producing fake news.