Republican politicians, here is the perfect playbook to winning conservative hearts, penned by Ari Fleischer, who was George W. Bush's press secretary. It's all about media baiting, and he has provided you with best template for it, in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal on Monday. The article is disingenuous as hell, but who cares?
Fleischer forecasts "a clash" coming between the new administration and the White House press corps, which he depicts as a smug, entitled bunch of liberal miscreants who are out to get poor Donald Trump.
Left unmentioned is Trump's very clear flaws that the public needs to know about. Like his thin-skinned rage toward anyone who doesn't toe his line. Like his sometime bizarre actions. Like his conflicts of interest. How dare the media call him to account? They need to know their place.
Shrewdly, Trump understands that there is no more sure-fire way to whip up a GOP crowd than to tar the news media as a clearly identifiable villain. At campaign rallies, Trump amped up the right's longstanding disdain for the media, by railing at reporters on hand. He incited his followers to scream and curse at these notebook- and camera-toting pariahs, who were confined to pens like prisoners.
It's an effective strategy. Long ago, at least since Richard Nixon's time, the base was duped into believing this nonsense. Don't get me wrong: I have many friends among regular Republican folks. They are good people. But they were tricked.
The formula to misguide them, perfected back in the day and so well reflected by Fleischer's op-ed, is this: Simply invent a straw man called "the liberal media" and noisily denounce it as your party's enemy (think Emmanuel Goldstein, Big Brother's made-up nemesis in George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four") -- then eureka, you, as a GOP pol, unite your base behind you.
And if you get into trouble, say, over a recording where you talk about assaulting women or whatever, you quickly redirect blame to the media. Trump worked that scheme tirelessly, and still does. He said the media somehow created the mass post-election protests against him. The strategy, while creepy, works, so let's grudgingly give credit where credit is due, and dive into this swamp, with Fleischer as our guide.
By all means, don't let perspective or facts dissuade you from exploiting the base's loathing of journalists. Keep in mind the two equations for GOP pols who pander to the press-hating base:
1) A news story critical of a Republican = liberal media bias
2) A news story critical of a Democrat = a free gift.
The second equation comes with a caveat. It was the "liberal" New York Times that broke the story about Hillary Clinton's emails in March 2015. Why would they deliver such a gut-punch to the candidate they supposedly favor? Inconvenient facts like these are best avoided. So just pretend the Hillary emails revelation fell from the sky, and wasn't courtesy of the Times.
And don't listen to talk that news people's real bias is news, that they are focused on the story and don't care about who it helps or harms politically. Bob Woodward of Watergate renown was, and maybe still is, a Republican, but that never entered into his anti-Nixon reporting. Ignore stuff like this.
Now, I don't know Ari Fleischer, who these days runs his own media consulting firm outside of New York. Judging from his performance as Bush's spokesman, he is an articulate and clever fellow, with a long pedigree in GOP politics, working for Republican lawmakers. The genius of his guidance to media bashers is its use of:
False cause and effect. He cites the public's low regard for the press - like a strong poison, this has seeped beyond the right wing -- and tells us its source: The public realizes that "the press is too liberal or unfair." Well, aside from some committed GOP partisans who automatically label all news stories a liberal smear, most of the public doesn't have the time or the inclination to study the media.
Nevertheless, the general public has heard the constant, well-funded drumbeat of conservative charges against the media. Not to mention reporters' depiction by Hollywood (in films and TV dramas, scribes are noisy, amoral and obnoxious), which may well be equally damaging. Work this fake bad image.
Distorted view of journalism's role. Fleischer notes the press' vital function in a free society, then undermines that notion. He goes on to argue that journalists have violated the public's trust by blatant partisanship. He writes: "A casual glance at most front pages and network news lends credence to the president-elect when he complains about his coverage."
The sub-text: Reporters should ignore Trump's long series of outrageous statements and outright falsehoods. If the Times says that Trump has no evidence to claim there were millions of illegal votes on Nov. 8, denounce it for bias.
And don't let contrary evidence distract you. For instance, Hillary Clinton, no stranger to negative coverage, has had a deep distrust of reporters and, as a candidate, went six months without holding a press conference. Instead, keep in mind the Republican mantra is that reporters are in her pocket.
Mis-use of statistics. A number of polls are kicking around that show most journalists are liberals and vote Democratic. Certainly, these polls tend to be simplistically worded and drawn from small samples. Two fine studies give a more accurate picture: The University of Indiana discovered that most journalists are independents, and the Pew Research Center established that most are moderates. Disregard that bothersome stuff.
Fleischer cites a Columbia Journalism Review article that, based on federal filings, found about 500 journalists -- less than 1% of the newsroom population -- who gave money to Clinton and Trump, with 96% of them favoring Clinton. Tellingly, Fleischer omits the crucial detail that none of the journalists surveyed cover national government and politics -- only a few cover local politics, and a smattering (like TV host Larry King) occasionally interview politicians.
The group surveyed was made up of a college professor, a TV critic, a restaurant reviewer, a videographer, a few fashion editors and so on. Fleischer also fails to point out that a lot of news organizations, like the Times and CNN, forbid political donations.
The party line is that reporters are first and foremost rabid lefties who will crawl over glass for Clinton or any other Democrat. Stick with that bill of goods.
Sneering at so-called elites. This was an election directed against the elites. And elites are bad, right? But the only elites you should care about are those not on the Republican side of the aisle. Repeat after me: The Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, many of Trump's wealthy prospective cabinet picks and billionaire, born-rich Trump himself - they are not elites.
Reporters, Fleischer writes, "are mostly liberal and largely made up of the same elites who couldn't imagine Mr. Trump winning." To Fleischer, "they live in a bubble and talk mainly to similar-minded journalists." You may wonder about all those quotes you read and on-air interviews you see, which come from reporters talking to a lot of people, not just each other, to help us understand what's going on in our society. Glide past that logical problem.
Remember: Journalists don't fight back. This is the best part. Call them anything, accuse them of every kind of malfeasance, and they won't say a word. They don't want to be part of the story, you see. That's why they are the ideal target. Flail away