Much of the mainstream media has depicted a fantasy that President Trump is an authoritarian who would scrap the First Amendment tomorrow if the political climate would allow.
But Jack Shafer at Politico said he has realized Trump is no authoritarian.
In fact, Shafer thinks Trump is afraid of the press. A wimp, a bully who will back down – or pre-emptively backs down – whenever confronted by the press he holds in such contempt.
“Let’s call Donald Trump’s bluff,” he wrote, leading off a piece headlined “Why Baby Donald’s Media Threats Don’t Scare Me.”
“For better than two years, he’s mauled reporters at every turn, herding them into pens during campaign stops and heckling them collectively, name-calling them individually (‘third-rate reporter;’ ‘dope;’ ‘underachieving;’ ‘dummy;’ ‘no talent;’ ‘wacky;’ ‘dishonest’), and even castigating the profession as an ‘enemy of the people.’
“He’s issued threats, promising to ‘open up’ libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations and end White House press briefings. He’s vowed to have NBC’s broadcast licenses revoked. His press secretary has selectively blocked outlets from White House briefings and prevented live broadcasts. His strategist Steve Bannon famously said the media should ‘keep its mouth shut and listen for a while’ and called the press ‘the opposition party.’ …
“But as we approach the first anniversary of Trump’s inauguration, we discover that the president’s gibbering about the alleged menace posed by the press has been followed by no action.”
Indeed, Trump threatened to sue the New York Times in October 2016 over a story about two women who had accused him of touching them inappropriately but didn’t. He has never approached any member of Congress about changing libel laws, which are passed at the state level anyway.
The last thing his Federal Communications Chairman, deregulationist Ajit Pai, wants to do is police TV news to pull broadcast licenses. The Supreme Court justice he nominated, Neil Gorsuch, is a staunch freedom-of-the-press advocate.
“He has mocked reporters and slagged the press as being part of a globalist conspiracy,” the piece continued. “His press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, berates them daily like schoolchildren as she burns through the minutes like a bored hourly worker.”
But the briefings have continued without a single reporter jailed, and Trump has made no move to curtail the First Amendment rights of any person or publication.
Even Jim Acosta, “Trump’s least favorite reporter,” still roams the White House corridors.
This is not an indication of a president who jousts with the press, points out its prejudices and ridicules stories and reporters he believes to be inaccurate or unfair. It is proof of the “emptiness of the president’s intimidations,” Shafer writes. “When it comes to the press, the president is a paper tiger dressed in a cowardly lion’s costume.”
If he had the guts, Shafer said, Trump could “end the briefings, exile reporters form the White House and stop talking to the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and other reporters.”
In addition, “he could dissolve the White House press pool that follows him around town or to the golf course when he decides to shoot a round. No law requires him to associate with reporters. But he hasn’t done any of these simple things.”
“Washington’s entrenched bureaucracy has its own ideas about the press, and while it might not like reporters, it likes Trump even less and appreciates reporters as a hedge against Trump’s overreaching.”
Trump overreaches, except when he’s too scared of the press to do so, according to Shaver. He has a variety of tools at his disposal to hurt the press, but he doesn’t use them.
And it’s not because he believes in the First Amendment as much as the next but seeks to challenge points that make him look bad. It’s not because he is holding journalism to its own standards – which it has struggled mightily to meet in recent years.
It’s because he’s a wimp. He’s scared of the press. Admit it: You didn’t see that one coming.