President Trump said in a newly released interview that his attacks on the media played a decisive role in getting him elected, and a new poll provides insight into why the "enemy of the people" rhetoric (which he insists is only meant for "fake news") actually works to his political advantage.
In a clip from an upcoming Axios special on HBO, Trump says this about his "enemy" description and fierce attacks on the media: "I wouldn’t be [in the White House] if I didn't do that.”
The comments come on the same day as the release of a new Morning Consult/Politico poll taken in the wake of mail bombs being sent to Trump critics and partially in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. In the days that followed the events, the media was dominated by stories, analysis, and commentary shining the light on Trump's divisive rhetoric, while Trump himself put the spotlight on the media for pulling people apart.
[Related: Trump accuses media of using Pittsburgh tragedy to 'sow anger and division']
The poll did find that 56 percent of registered voters said Trump was more a force for division than unity. However it also found that 64 percent of the public believes that the media has done more to divide the country since Trump took office, compared with only 17 percent who say it has helped unite the country. Among his own base, the numbers are even more overwhelming: 80 percent of Republicans, 85 percent of Trump voters, and 87 percent of conservatives found the media to be more divisive.
What the poll suggests is that Trump's heated rhetoric about the media not only works as a way of firing up the base, but it doesn't really cost him much among the general public, which is sympathetic to the idea that journalists play a large role in dividing the country.
Journalism — particularly television journalism — thrives on tragedy and conflict, on highlighting the saddest stories and most extreme voices. Many Americans only see the media as a source of constant negativity, and see reporters as arrogant and invasive. Reporters during the Trump era have responded with over-the-top rhetoric of their own, and have made enough high-profile errors to provide ammo to Trump and his supporters.
Journalists may see themselves as Robert Redford playing the crusading Bob Woodward exposing corruption at the highest levels of government, but the reality is that most Americans see them as William Atherton playing the pushy and manipulative Richard Thornburg in "Die Hard."
It is a sad reality as a journalist, especially given that I still believe that the press has an indispensable role in holding people in power accountable. Trump's wild statements dating back to the day he announced he was running for office should be checked by an institution that has credibility. But widespread distrust of the media is a reality that Trump has been able to exploit.