Donald Trump said it directly in one of his latest helicopter-proximate talks, for 2020 he doesn’t regard his top challenger as Joe Biden or any other Democratic nominee. He sees his true opponent as the free press. To handle that issue, Trump’s political allies are collecting money, not to promote Trump, and not to do opposition research on potential opponents, but to discover personal details about reporters that might be used to demean them and discredit their work.
Despite three years of continuous bashing, the media continues to report on what Trump actually said and did—including little things like congratulating Poland for being invaded by Nazis and golfing his way through a hurricane threat. He regards these cameras and pens that allow Americans to see Trump being Trump as the biggest challenge of the 2020 election. And he’s right. Even with Fox running interference 24/7 and Dean Baquet serving up The New York Times editorial page as a safe white space for Trump supporters, word of what Trump is actually doing continues to “leak” from Washington. And Americans aren’t impressed.
Trump has even made it clear that Fox at its Foxiest is not enough for him. Their tendency to report poll numbers and economic statistics, even when those numbers don’t show 120% of Americans willing to die for Trump, has earned the Hannity network some finger shakes. It’s also generated some strong hints that, should Trump fail to be evicted from the White House, he might have to simply get rid of them all and install a proper Ministry of Propaganda.
As Axios reports, the group is raising millions specifically for looking into details of reporters, producers, and editors from their social media statements to their home life, with the intention of slipping that information to Breitbart or other Trump-friendly outlets. Targets include those at news channels, major newspapers, and online sites what aren’t considered reliably Trump-leaning. And of course, both Trump and his supporters will continue to attack social media as having a built-in bias, despite all the evidence that white supremacists are handled with the whitest of kid gloves.
While some have tried to compare these to efforts such as Snopes or Media Matters, it’s an entirely different thing. Those sites look to eliminate bias in the news by pointing out when stories deviate from the truth. This effort isn’t just intended to generate bias, it intends to do so by directly attacking those who bring the news to the public.
The way this effort is being framed makes it clear that it’s not about blowing away the anti-Trump fog from a story. The money isn’t being put toward researching the truth behind issues, or mounting a rapid response team aimed at debunking false narratives.
Instead, the money is being expressly devoted to researching the backgrounds and statements of those in the news industry. That makes it possible to quash any information they have as being “biased,” without addressing the facts.
Trump is far from the first politician to express his anger at the media—Nixon famously hated The Washington Post and banned their reporters from White House functions—but it may be the first time a national party has engaged in a deliberate effort to destroy the free press and undermine reporters rather than address stories.
The New York Times reports that the money behind this is being arranged by a “loose network” of Trump allies. The group has already collected and released information on journalists at CNN, The Washington Post, and the Times. The group has supposedly gathered much more information than has been released so far, with intentions of distributing more as the election nears to head off any stories that may appear from those sources.