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The media is playing into Trump’s hands
Rich Manieri
Rich Manieri

You’re more likely to see a unicorn walking down Michigan Avenue than roving bands of street thugs wearing “Make America Great Again” hats in Democratic-dominated Chicago.

Still, there weren’t many reporters who considered that fact, or the many other holes in actor Justin Smollett’s made-up hate crime, before running with the story.

Over the weekend, the editors of the Washington Post issued a “note” - the word “apology” was not used - explaining the Post’s coverage of the apparent confrontation between Native American activist Nathan Phillips and a group of students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky.

“Subsequent reporting, a student’s statement and additional video allow for a more complete assessment of what occurred, either contradicting or failing to confirm accounts provided in that story...” the Post’s statement read.

Attorneys for the high school student in the middle of the mess, Nicholas Sandmann, who is now suing the Post, called the editor’s note, among other things, “grossly insufficient.” 

Indeed, a “more complete assessment,” i.e. the rest of the video and some actual reporting, revealed that the dots the media rushed to connect weren’t connectable at all.

I’m a big fan of a free press. This particular freedom allows me to write what I want without having to worry about being thrown in jail or propped up in front of a firing squad because I’ve become an enemy of the state.

Our founders knew what they were doing. Though many of them had little use for the press of the day, they understood that a free news media would be an integral part of our republic’s checks and balances. 

President’s Trump’s war with the media bothers me, not because I’m worried about being dragged from my bed and interrogated at 2 a.m., but because he seems to show a fundamental misunderstanding for why the media exists, at least in this country.

So, when Trump uses terms such as “enemy of the people” to the describe the media, it’s unsettling.

Every journalist has his or her own political leanings and biases. The problem is, on a national level especially, those biases have now been laid bare, and that’s the media’s fault, not Trump’s.

The Post’s coverage of the Covington Catholic story and subsequent clarifying statement - though a carefully-blended verbal melange - only exacerbates skepticism and helps advance Trump’s case - right or wrong - that the media can’t see past its own biases to cover any issue, even tangentially related to Trump, objectively.

Reporters are human. They make mistakes. But there’s a difference between an honest error and lack of open-mindedness or worse, a desire to spread icing on a prebaked narrative.

There’s a general impression among many conservatives, and certainly Trump supporters, that it is the media that declared war on Trump, not the other way around, and that the same media was mostly supine during the Obama administration.

Conservative writer Larry Elder, in a RealClear Politics piece in January, recalled some Obama-era missteps about which the media was aggressively disinterested, including a 2008 stimulus package that never left a trace, promises that Obamacare would “lower premiums by up to $2,500 for a typical family per year,” and prematurely pulling the military out of Iraq, to name a few.

“The media’s ‘Trump is a congenital liar’ narrative reeks of rampant hypocrisy to those who repeatedly complained while the same media gave President Barack Obama pass after pass for eight years,” Elder wrote.

It’s hard to argue with Elder though there’s no question that Trump is often his own worst enemy, always ready to lash out or take the bait rather than head for the high road.

But the media refuses to learn. Shortly after the Covington Catholic debacle and the subsequent death threats and corrections, reporters ran with Smollett’s concocted story that he was attacked by two, racist MAGA-hat wearing Trump supporters on a Chicago street in the middle of the night. 

Any police reporter with half a clue would have had serious questions about Smollett’s story from the beginning. Why was there no video? Why was he still wearing a noose when he talked to police? What about the other inconsistencies in his account?

My fear is that reporters ran with the Covington and Smollett stories, not because the information was credible but because the media has a vested interest in believing such stories. They advance the narrative that Trump is bad for America, and that narrative sells, especially in big cities.

The irony is that the Trump-against-the-liberal-media theme is what helped get him elected in the first place and could help him get re-elected.

If that happens, there won’t be anyone else for the media to blame. Not even Donald Trump.

Rich Manieri is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is currently a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. You can reach him at