How Trump turned media’s hatred of him into an asset

Last night’s White House Correspondents Association Dinner may have marked the end of an era.  The plaintive claim of the president of the group, “We are not fake news,” revealed the sadness and fear that underlie the mainstream media’s precarious position.

President Trump has largely eroded America’s trust in the national political media during his first few months in the White House, according to a new poll.

On the eve of Trump’s 100th day in office, a new national poll by Morning Consult finds that more voters trust the president than the reporters covering his administration on a daily basis.

Thirty-seven percent of voters believe the White House has been more forthright than the media, versus 29 percent who favor the press. Another 34 percent were unsure or had no opinion.

This comes after more than a year of sustained attacks on Trump. It has come to the point that the viciousness of the attacks on the sitting POTUS are counterproductive, weakening trust in the media, instead of the object of their scorn. Sadness is one response, but another one is escalation. Consider the viciousness of the remarks of the chosen headliner of the WHCA dinner: a purported comedian named Hassan Minaj, who is said to be a celebrity on Comedy Central.   

During his monologue, comedian and “The Daily Show” correspondent Hasan Minhaj said that he was explicitly told not to go after the absent President Trump or the administration – but if true, he certainly ignored the marching order. (“You were not told that,” White House Correspondents’ Association president Jeff Mason appeared to say off-screen.)

“I would say it’s an honor to be here, but that would be an alternative fact. No one wanted to do this, so of course it lands in the hands of an immigrant. No one wanted this gig,” said Minhaj. “Don Rickles died just so you wouldn’t ask him to do this gig.”

There were jokes about Russia: “The leader of our country is not here. That’s because he lives in Moscow, it’s a very long flight.” Jokes about how the press should hope Trump keeps golfing: “The longer you keep him distracted, the longer we’re not at war with North Korea.” Jokes about how it’s a good thing Trump didn’t attend the dinner: “He’s done far too much bombing this month.”

He also took some shots at the Trump administration, including Sean Spicer, whose “go-to move when you ask him a tough question is denying the Holocaust.” And Mike Pence, who wasn’t there because there were women in attendance who were ovulating. “Good job ladies, because of you, we couldn’t hang out with Mike Pence,” he said. He noted that Jeff Sessions RSVP’d “no,” which is “his second-favorite ‘n’ word.”There were also the requisite jokes about the media – how CNN calls everything “breaking news”; how if he bombs his monologue, MSNBC’s Brian Williams will say he did a stunning job; how Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly’s $25 million exit package is the “only package he won’t force a woman to touch.”

Toward the end, Minhaj’s tone changed – he reflected on the surreal feeling of the entire evening (“I feel like I’m a tribute in ‘The Hunger Games,’ and if this goes poorly, Steve Bannon gets to eat me.”) and turned serious, marveling that because we live in a democracy, a first generation Indian-American Muslim can get on the White House correspondents’ dinner stage and make fun of the president.

 “Surreal” doesn’t begin to describe what was going on. With the glittery assemblage alternately praising itself and accusing the Trump administration of hideous behavior (N-words, living in Moscow), while President Trump was with a huge crowd of supporters in a distinctly non-glamorous setting, there was an element of Versailles as the sans coulottes were building their barricades in the streets of Paris. Except that the sans coulottes and their leader hold the reins of power, and the media has only their diminished (and still shrinking) level of trust among the citizenry.

I think that once again Salena Zito has captured a reality that eludes most of her colleagues in the media:

 Dennis Dixon didn’t vote for Donald J. Trump. For the first time in his 46 years, the self-described “moderate Midwestern Republican” sat out a presidential election because he was less than thrilled with both major candidates. “I wrote in John Kasich,” he says, with a trace of humor. (snip)

“If he [Trump] continues to stick to his guns and do what he is doing, I’d vote for him if he ran again,” Dixon says.

He may not have liked the candidate but he is “enjoying the heck out of his presidency.”

What he likes about Trump is his determination on certain issues, “but he is also willing to show flexibility when it counts. That is the kind of outside non-politician behavior that attracted a lot of voters to him.”

He also is frustrated by the way the national press treats Trump in comparison to President Obama: “They really do not give him a fair shake.”

In fact, some of that perceived bias impacts how Dixon views Trump: Instead of pushing him away from the president, he is more intrigued by him.

Dixon’s opinion defies the conventional wisdom of national news outlets, which still seem unable to grasp that Trump’s supporters aren’t going anywhere for the moment and that they view his approach to the presidency as successful.

The media certainly couldn’t believe there are Dennis Dixons out there — voters who didn’t support candidate Trump but are now pleased by his outsider approach to governing. Enough to even consider voting for him in the future. The idea that someone could go from a Trump skeptic to having an open mind about his presidency is unheard-of in their circles.

Certainly they have done enough to make every newscast, written report, blog post or tweet a breathless condemnation of every step he takes. They are shocked at how unconventional he is, while people who voted for him are shocked the political class still doesn’t understand that’s exactly why they voted for him.

Like the driver of a car stuck in snow, the Trump-hating media are spinning their tires, which is melting the snow next to the treads, and thereby diminishing any traction available. The faster the wheels spin, the more water is generated, preventing any traction at all.

The media does not know how to ease off the accelerator. To extend the metaphor of a car in snow, they need some grit to place under their wheels. Salena Zito knows where such grit may be found: outside the glitter of New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.  And the only way to put that grit under the tires would be to understand the thoughts and feelings in flyover country well enough to have actual empathy for the proles who don't get to hobnob with bejeweled and begowned celebrities that hate people who don't share their views.

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