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False choices

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Now that the White House is engaged in open warfare with the media, the worst part isn’t the fake news. It’s the false choices.

For instance, just because you don’t like the way that President Trump has been treated by the media doesn’t mean you support the chief executive. And just because you think that Trump and associates have lied and broken promises doesn’t mean you condone the media’s sloppy attempts to oust Trump.

Now more than ever, Americans need to be free to declare: “A pox on both houses.”

We should be able to acknowledge that the people who run the nation’s major newspapers, and most of the TV networks are out to get President Trump, often treat him unfairly, take personally his attacks on their brands, and allow Trump to live in their heads rent free. 

At the same time, we should also not be shy about pointing out that Trump often acts like a child, cares too much what the media says about him, wastes time on hurtful personal attacks on reporters and anchors, and ought to have his Twitter account suspended and cell phone smashed to pieces. 

The president and the media seem to be engaged in an un-likability contest, vying to see which of them can rub more Americans the wrong way. If you’re tired of this telenovela and dislike them both at this point, you’re not alone.   

It’s worth asking: How in the world did we get here? 

Well, for one thing, Trump — who was a liberal Manhattan Democrat most of his life — has been a media darling for nearly 40 years, and spent the last dozen years in the entertainment world as the star of his own hit reality show. All that will teach a person a thing or two about the media and how to manipulate them. When he wants to be, Trump is a good student.

What the president learned was that while newspeople are supposed to be up-to-speed on issues and events around the world, the topic we’re most fascinated by is, well, ourselves. Attack us, and you’ll distract us. Instead of dedicating our time to holding the administration accountable for its mistakes, we’ll spend hours defending our honor and punching back.

That’s a huge mistake. Journalists have to know how to take criticism, but never take it personally. That’s a good way to sacrifice objectivity and lose perspective. 

For the media’s part, they’re enraged and offended by Trump and determined to run him from office. Why? Because — like the investor who missed the chance to put money into Google or Amazon — they’re having the toughest time getting over the fact that they missed one of the biggest stories of the last 50 years: Trump’s election. What if a political novice upset one of the best-known brands in politics while riding a wave of populism and battling elites — and the media totally missed it?

The average consumer of media must pick up on the fact that they’re not getting the whole story. 

I was on a flight to New York when the story broke about Donald Trump Jr. meeting with a Russian lawyer in search of incriminating material about Hillary Clinton. Watching satellite TV and flipping between CNN and Fox News, I concluded the story was either evidence of “treason” or a “nothing burger.” 

Most Americans must realize that the truth is somewhere in-between. Good luck finding it. 

Every week, it seems, I run across smart and highly-educated people who want to stay informed and who understand what a dangerous world we live in. And yet, they tell me, they’ve unplugged. They don’t watch TV news, listen to the radio, or even read newspapers. All, they say, because they don’t know who or what to trust. So they’ve looked away.  

Meanwhile, the White House has hunkered down, convinced that it can’t get a fair shake from the Fourth Estate. It will continue to brag about its accomplishments, real and imagined. And it will keep deflecting its failures and setbacks by making excuses and shifting the blame. All that fuels cynicism. 

The media is so heavily invested in pushing an alternate narrative that they can’t make a U-turn and suddenly start treating Trump fairly. They can’t admit they’re wrong about this president, which prevents them from giving credit where credit is due. That only further erodes their credibility.  

This dysfunctional, codependent relationship between Trump and the media is a national disgrace. The two combatants need each other, and they’re helping make each other more popular with supporters. They have too much influence over each other, and feed each other’s exaggerated sense of importance. Each time Trump and the media wrestle in the mud, it’s the country that winds up getting soiled. 

 

Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group, a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, a columnist for the Daily Beast, and author of “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano” (Bantam).

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