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Trump can be impulsive. But his war with the press is strategic.


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Donald Trump very deliberately picked a fight with the media to help fuel his rise to the White House, and now that he’s there — and his administration is struggling — he is strategically escalating it.

On Friday, the administration canceled press secretary Sean Spicer’s scheduled briefing to the full White House press corps, and replaced it instead with an off-camera briefing to which some media outlets were invited — and others were excluded, including CNN, the New York Times, Politico, and BuzzFeed News.

The move was met with howls of protests. "Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties," Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times, said in a statement. “Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.”

This isn’t an isolated incident. The move came on the heels of a morning speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in which Trump complained, at length, about what he called the “fake” media, saying “they are the enemy of the people.” And at Trump’s freewheeling press conference last week, he similarly started off by denouncing members of the media who, he said, “will not tell you the truth and will not treat the wonderful people of our country with the respect that we deserve.”

Though Trump is surely motivated in part by personal pique here, and he has long complained about the press, it’s now indisputable that the attacks on the press are part of a deliberate White House strategy — one that has the fingerprints of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who early on in the administration suggested the media was the “opposition party” and Trump’s most important foe.

In explaining why Trump is going after the media now, we should keep in mind what has happened in this administration so far. Namely:

1) He’s ended his first month without any significant accomplishments (since his controversial immigration and travel order is currently frozen in the courts).

2) He’s been plagued by a seemingly endless series of leaks from what appears to be every level of the government.

3) There are burgeoning scandals potentially implicating his administration officialsand associates — scandals publicized and often exacerbated by the aforementioned leaks.

4) With Democrats reduced to minority status in both houses of Congress, and years remaining before candidates begin challenging him for the 2020 election, he’s lacking an obvious enemy to make his foil.

Trump appears to be trying to solve all these problems by attacking the press. Doing so changes the subject from his lack of accomplishments and scandals. It also discredits the institution that is the conveyor of a great deal of negative information about him. And it gives Trump a nemesis he can fire up the conservative base by fighting.

What actually happened with the press briefing

When the White House schedule for Friday came out, Spicer was listed as giving his regular briefing, in which he takes questions in the briefing room, on camera, with the full White House press corps in attendance.

Toward the middle of the day, though, the White House announced that this version of Spicer’s briefing would be different. First, it would be off camera. Second, and much more importantly, only certain news outlets would be allowed to attend.......

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