Anglo-Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said: “I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” US President Donald Trump decoyed the media in the best way, and exploited it for nearly a year, during the presidential election campaign.
Trump was a favorite subject for them, because he was a candidate out of the ordinary and did not adhere to the traditional rules of competition. Moreover, he has great popular attraction and does not care much for intellectuals’ opinions. Trump climbed on the media’s shoulders and at the cheapest price. He got significant air time for free, gaining him more viewers.
While Hillary Clinton spent more than $1 billion on the media, Trump until last September had spent a very small amount, but his media presence was overwhelming. I do not think even the best media planners imagined that Trump’s luck could get him the presidency. This made the likes of CNN open their microphones to him in an unprecedented way. They mollycoddled him as entertainment, not out of favoritism or promotion.
By the time everyone realized he could win, it was too late to stop him as he had already built his name, program and popularity. With his victory the electoral competition ended, but it seems the media war has now begun.
The media is well aware that the president is an easy target as he holds primary responsibility, and that his administration will commit errors, not be able to meet some of its promises, and be affected by events beyond his influence, giving them the necessary weapons to weaken him.
Trump, who looks like a tough Roman wrestler, will be exhausted because as Shaw said, public figures never overcome the media, which considers criticism its job and source of power. The US constitution provides safeguards for expression, whatever the purpose and style. The president cannot do much to curb the hostile media, and his enemies will become more aggressive.
Former President Barack Obama enjoyed a good relationship with the media. He turned most of the media in his favor, although he was sensitive to its criticism. It is also said that he exceeded any other US president in punishing journalists who disagreed with him or criticized him, by depriving them from participating in coverage of his activities and trips.
Trump’s problem is in his character. He is emotional, likes confrontation, and believes it will be his weapon in educating journalists. This will exhaust him and cost him a lot in the coming years. It could even destroy him.
His Democratic opponents are a strong, popular force in society and have close ties with the mostly liberal media. They also have links with women’s associations, minorities, gays, the disabled, and a long list of organizations with followers and money. They will keep Trump busy during the next four years with protests. They will use the weapon of popular and qualitative media against him on a large scale.
That is why the open threat by Trump against journalists a few days ago is just talk, an expression of anger and frustration at the media attacks against him. He can shout in their faces, but cannot do much against them except deprive those who do not like him from accompanying him, or stopping them from obtaining private information about him. He may retreat and accept that the only possible way with a bullying media is to coexist with it.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.