I am flummoxed: Who’s drawing the shorter stick from America’s 45th president? Those in my former profession or those in my current one?
Journalists, among whose number I proudly counted myself for 15 years, have long been a favored target of Businessman Trump, Reality-Show Star Trump, Candidate Trump and now President Trump. He’s famously called reporters “losers” and worse, their publications and shows “failures” and worse and recently expanded into shouting “You’re fake news!” at some during press conferences. Then, of course, there was his press secretary’s weekend harangue about inauguration size, which had the feel of the more aggressive and unhinged half of an I-Know-You-Are-But-What-Am-I? playground dust-up. That bit of bizarre political theater was followed up by another member of Team Trump saying Sean Spicer wasn’t lying to the media, just presenting “alternative facts.”
So, while I get the press has its work cut out for it covering Mr. Trump, the things he’s doing, and the things he’s done, don’t exactly make it easy for guys who make a living at PR — as I’ve done for the last 15 years. That’s because Donald Trump doesn’t practice public relations; he practices public retaliations. He operates from the premise that his base — be they fans of THE APPRENTICE or Americans who voted for him — don’t like or trust the “mainstream media.” So he continues to have zero qualms about berating, insulting and flat-out, bald-faced lying to them, because he understands his supporters not only won’t be offended, they’ll applaud.
And those who oppose him? They are already aghast at everything he says and does. What exactly is the effect of them becoming aghast-er? Will his Teflon coating be dented because they now Really, Really, Really Super Big-Time No, Honest, We So Couldn’t Oppose Him More?
Donald Trump knows, I’d argue better than anyone, how to leverage the political and ideological wedge that exists in American culture. George Bush famously called himself a “uniter, not a divider.” Donald Trump gleefully acts as the exact opposite, Bizarro Bush in Superman terms, when getting his message out — whether through a 3 a.m. post-SNL Twitter strafing or saying the facts back up the hugeness of his inauguration crowds and his hands, despite ample evidence to the contrary in both cases.
So why does this trouble the ex-journalist-turned-PR-pro in me? Because my former and current professions are already the cats and dogs of the communications world — not exactly always on the easiest of terms. When the relationship is conducted with respect and, yes, even friendship, on both sides, journalists get content of interest to their audiences, and PR types get exposure for their clients to make an impact with their message. Donald Trump’s relations with the press, and the truth, make both sides of that equation more tenuous for all of us — and the ultimate losers are the readers, listeners and viewers who consume and count on news they can trust.
Come to think of it, it really is the masses, not the players, who get the shortest stick in the alternative communications world President Trump has elevated to an art form.