If you know one fact about President Donald Trump, it's that he hates the media. Like, hates with the white-hot passion of 1,000 suns.
That fact is, in, um, not actually a fact at all. Trump craves the media's attention and, yes, even its approval. Just listen closely to his anti-media riffs and you can hear the pining for acceptance just below the surface.
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Take Trump's speech at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania on Thursday night. It was peppered with the sort of press attacks that have been a feature of Trump's grievance-based messaging since he began running for president more than three years ago. A few examples:
- "Whatever happened to the free press? Whatever happened to honest reporting? They don't report it. They only make up stories."
- "They were suffering [on election night], they were suffering,"
- "Only negative stories from the fakers back there."
- "They can make anything bad because they are the fake, fake, disgusting news."
"Fake." "Disgusting." "Suffering." Strong stuff.
But then there was this -- a sort of aside from Trump. "I didn't need this," Trump said. "I didn't need this. I didn't need it! I had a very nice life. I used to get actually good press."
The very fact that Trump is aware of his press -- and remembers a time when it was, allegedly, much better than it is now -- speaks to how much he cares.
Remember that the opposite of love isn't hate. It's indifference. Ask yourself whether you have ever been able to get yourself genuinely worked up -- in a positive or a negative way -- about something you didn't care about at all. Of course not. You can only get really upset about something you genuinely care deeply about. And for Trump, that's the media.
That's a major contrast to the last two men to hold the White House. Barack Obama was decidedly diffident to the press, believing he was smarter and knew better than anyone (or almost anyone) covering him. George W. Bush was willing to play ball with the media, but generally speaking, believed the media was going to write what they wanted no matter what he did -- and that it didn't make much of a difference in how he did his job.
To some, Trump's deep and abiding concern for the media's approval might seem like a big surprise -- especially given that he has repeatedly described the media as the "enemy of the American people." But again, you can only really be passionate about what you care deeply about. And there's plenty of evidence that Trump does truly care about the media despite his over-the-top -- and frankly dangerous -- campaign rhetoric.
He regularly indulges questions from reporters after his aides try to get them to leave the room. He consumes massive amounts of cable TV every single day. So much so that he has to record some of his favorite shows so that he makes sure not to miss them. He remembers "good" stories people wrote about him from decades ago. Way back before he was even considering a run for president -- I'm talking about the 1980s -- he made up a young publicist in the Trump organization named John Barron who would peddle "scoops" on "Mr. Trump's" active social and sex life. (Trump himself was "John Barron"!)
Trump has always, always, always understood -- and respected -- the power the media had to make him relevant, cool, buzzed-about and important. Remember that for Trump, death isn't bad press. It's no press at all. He got that there was a symbiotic relationship: He would give the tabloid media the fodder it needed to stay alive, and, in turn, they would promote the brand of Donald Trump.
He still gets that. He just knows that as President, the media has no choice but to cover him. So he can say and do whatever he wants without fear that he will be uncovered or ignored.
So, yes, Trump bashes the "fake news" media at every turn. But old habits die hard. And it's clear in each attack that Trump feels spurned by a media that he thought he had a deal with. He did and said wild stuff and they covered it as wacky and wild -- but not dangerous. Of course, the difference is that Trump is now the President of the United States. And what he does have massive implications not just for this country but for the world. But he seems not to grasp that the stakes are different now. This isn't about whether or not Madonna wanted to date him. It's about nuclear weapons, children being separated from their parents, the evolving economy amid a global marketplace.
Because he doesn't understand how the stakes changing matters, Trump gets indignant at the way he is covered. But he never gets indifferent to the way he is covered. He's not capable of that. He cares WAY too much what the media thinks.