President Donald Trump has “engaged in the most direct, sustained assault on a free press in our history” – but has a point about media bias, Fox News Channel’s Chris Wallace said in a whiplash-making speech to fellow journalists.
Picking up the International Center for Journalists Founders Award for Excellence in Journalism in Washington D.C. on Thursday night, Wallace charged that since early in his presidential campaign, Trump has done all he can to de-legitimize the media, “attacking us institutionally, and individually.”
“I think his purpose is clear: a concerted campaign to raise doubts that when we report critically about his administration that we can be trusted.”
Between January 10 and October 31, Trump tweeted about “fake news” 141 times, Wallace claimed, citing the Trump Twitter Archive. That, of course does not include all the times he’s said it out loud.
For Wallace, one tweet stands out, from February 17: “The fake news media (failing NY Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN) is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American People!”
“And that was precisely his point: If we report negatively about something he’s doing, we are hurting the country,” Wallace warned.
According to Wallace, Bill McRaven — the Navy SEAL who became head of all U.S. Special Forces, overseeing missions that captured Saddam Hussein and killed Osama bin Laden — said the sentiment Trump expressed in that tweet “may be the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.”
McRaven might have understated the threat, Wallace suggested, citing a recent Politico poll in which 46% of voters believe major news organizations make up stories about President Trump.
Pivoting sharply, Wallace said Trump has a point about media bias.
He cited The New York Times‘ banner headline November 10, 2016: “Democrats, Students and Foreign Leaders Face the Reality of a Trump Presidency” and read the lead paragraph he complained was littered with “buzzwords” such as “reeled,” “coming to grips,” “unimaginable” and “plunged.”
Wallace similarly took issue with the February 16 lead on CBS Evening News: “It has been a busy day for presidential statements divorced from reality.”
And CNN’s White House correspondent report of August 2: “This White House has an unhealthy fixation on what I call the 3 M’s: the Mexicans, the Muslims and the media. Their policies tend to be crafted around bashing one of these three groups.”
Asked Wallace: “Do they belong on the front page of the paper? Or the lead of the evening news?”
Wallace’s speech finally wound its way to his point: “Many of our colleagues think this president has gone so far over the line bashing the media, it has given them an excuse to cross the line themselves, to push back.
“As tempting as that may be, I think it’s a big mistake.”
Wallace did not cite any examples of line crossing by his primetime colleagues at Fox News Channel who, the network always is careful to say, host “opinion” programs. And those programs, like FNC’s morning show Fox & Friends, skew heavily pro-Trump and are much loved by POTUS.
“We shouldn’t be drawn into becoming players on the field, trying to match the people we cover in invective,” Wallace insisted. “It’s not our role. … And we’re giving up our special place in our democracy. There’s enough to report about this president that we don’t need to offer opinions or put our thumb on the scale.”
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