Media Madness: Donald Trump, the Press, and the War over the Truth by Howard Kurtz, Regnery Publishing, US $28.99, Pp 256, January 2018, ISBN 978-1621577263
President Jimmy Carter once told The New York Times’ columnist Maureen Dowd that “the media have been harder on Trump than any other president” he had seen and the media “feel free to claim that Trump is mentally deranged.” President Carter cannot be accused of being a Trump fan. In Media Madness, eminent journalist Howard Kurtz explains and analyzes how the American media covered the 2017 presidential campaign and the one-year Trump presidency. Kurtz says that too many American journalists and media executives are convinced that they have a solemn duty to oppose Trump. They disregard the normal rules of balance and suspend the attempted objectivity as if it is a relic of a calmer time. Kurtz writes, “They justified the new approach by telling themselves and the world that they had a duty to push back – perhaps even push out – a president they viewed as unqualified, intemperate, and insistent on pursuing harmful policies. They also took on the mission of proving that the president obstructed justice and possibly colluded with Russia, with limited results as 2017 drew to a close.”
There is simply no factual dispute that the coverage of Donald Trump has been overwhelmingly negative in tone, tenor, and volume. Kurtz says that some of these stories have been legitimate, but many of them were tendentious or biased. In some cases, minor developments were magnified out of all proportions. On the commentary side, many conservatives, as well as liberals, remain downright hostile in their criticism of Trump. Trump has at times made mistakes, stretched or obscured the truth, and gone too far in attacking journalists and painting them as enemies of the country. While the media still play a vital role in separating fact from fiction, the president’s criticisms – and their own blunders and blunders – have cast that role in doubt.
Kurtz argues that the American media have become more tribal and their outlets often serve as a badge of personal identity. Conservatives and liberals, Trump fans and Trump bashers, have split into ideological camps and they are unwilling to tolerate the slightest deviation from their side, wedded to their version of the truth. He says that a common refrain among Trump’s antagonists in the press is that they must resist normalizing his presidency. But in the process, they have abnormalized journalism. The gravest offense is the disdain and derision – at times outright revulsion — that often seep into so many reports and segments about the president. Kurtz writes, “Too many journalists have subjected him to trial by Twitter, overreacted to his personal invective, and lost sight of what truly matters in people’s lives.” Kurtz rightly points out that Donald Trump will not be president forever, but the media’s reputation, badly scared during these polarizing years, might never recover.
Media Madness is a very insightful study of the American media and their role in recent years. Kurtz has meticulously analyzed and explained the role of the American media with umpteenth examples of biased reporting from the American media. Media Madness helps understand not only the American media but also American politics. Media Madness is probably the best book on the biased role the American media have played in covering President Trump’s election campaign and administration.