In case you hadn’t figured it out by now, President Donald Trump has what most of us should have figured out: His campaign against “fake news” is really a war against any news that he does not like.
“The Fake News is working overtime,” he tweeted Wednesday morning. “Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91 percent of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?”
I think Trump is blowing smoke with that threat to yank media credentials. He repeatedly has railed against news media, going so far as to call us “the enemy of the people,” a phrase widely used by Josef Stalin, among other tyrants.
Trump also has mused out loud about changing libel laws to make it easier to sue reporters for inaccurate stories, although fortunately he lacks that authority.
During his 2016 presidential campaign, he also banned some news organizations, including The Washington Post and the Des Moines Register, from covering his rallies and news conferences. That brought fierce condemnation from press freedom advocates. In a democratic society, autocratic bullying of the press is not a good look.
Yet his base appears to have received his message. An April Quinnipiac University poll found a heavily partisan divide: 51 percent of Republican voters believe the media are “the enemy of the people,” while only 37 percent of Republicans said they thought the media were “an important part of democracy.”
Overall, 66 percent of American voters called the media an “important part of democracy” and 53 percent of voters trust the media more than they trust President Donald Trump. Thanks, folks. But please keep us on our toes, as you should keep politicians on their toes. It was refreshing to see Trump’s tweet had the word “Fake” inserted in parentheses to describe “negative” coverage, lending weight to what I, among other skeptics, have written before: “Fake news” to Trump is any news Trump doesn’t like.
We’ve become accustomed to the fake-news charge from Trump. But “corrupt”? Look who’s talking.
On the same day that his tweet described media as “corrupt,” new allegations about Michael Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer and self-described “fixer,” were making the president who promised to “drain the swamp” look even swampier.
The New York Times followed up on a report from Michael Avenatti, lawyer for adult-film star Stormy Daniels, that listed a number of questionable transactions allegedly associated with the shell company Cohen set up in Delaware to pay off the porn star.
The Times found at least $4.4 million flowed into the coffers of Essential Consulting, including more than $1 million from an American company linked to a Russian oligarch and several corporations — including AT&T, pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG and Korean Aerospace Industries — with business before the Trump administration, according to documents and interviews.
As soon as Trump won his unexpected victory, Cohen began working the phones, according to reports, looking for deep-pocket corporations and others with a high-dollar interest in navigating the new administration.
He showed photos of himself with Trump, according to news accounts, boasted about how often they spoke and even encouraged people to share news stories that called him the president’s “fixer,” since he probably didn’t feel comfortable putting it on his resume.
Cohen has been in hot water for a number of reasons. The FBI raided his home seeking details of his business dealings and the source of his payment to persuade Stormy Daniels to hush up about her past relations with Trump.
Cohen also seemed to view his old boss’s rise to the White House as a big ATM for his own profit.
The big question of how much Trump might have known about his longtime friend’s side business, if at all, has yet to be answered. But as various investigations move closer to the president, it’s clear this administration needs more scrutiny from a vigilant press, not less, regardless of how much Team Trump dislikes our nosiness.
Clarence Page is a member of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.