Three years ago, the Pew Research Center conducted a public opinion survey regarding how Americans viewed various professions in terms of how much they contributed to society.
As a group, journalists came in seventh out of 10 professions — ahead of only business executives and lawyers.
At the top, in order, were military personnel, teachers, medical doctors and scientists, followed by engineers, clergy members and artists.
Adding insult to injury, among all 10 groups, journalists had dropped the most in public esteem during the previous four years. The portion of the public saying that journalists contribute “a lot” to society was down from 38% in a 2009 survey to 28% in 2013. The drop was particularly pronounced among women, 17 percent of whom had a less favorable view of journalists than they did in 2009.
You might wonder why I went looking for statistics about the public’s view of journalists. Well, I was still scratching my head after having watched a recording of Donald Trump’s earlier news conference, in which he relentlessly flogged journalists for being “dishonest” and “not good people.”
The premise of the news conference was to reveal how much money Trump had raised for veterans groups. He did that (the amount was $5.6 million, according to Trump), but he spent almost as much time chewing on journalists as he did talking about his fund-raising for veterans. He seemed irritated because members of the media had questioned whether he had actually raised a significant amount of money, and they had been pressing him on where, specifically, the money was going to.
Here are a few samples of what he had to say about “the press.”
:: “The press should be ashamed of themselves…You make me look very bad. I have never received such bad publicity for doing such a good job.”
:: “You know my opinion of the media; it’s very low. I think the media is, frankly, made up of people that — in many cases, not all cases — are not good people.”
:: “I think the political press is among the most dishonest people I’ve ever met…I find the political press to be unbelievably dishonest.”
I’m in something of a state of disbelief myself. In all my years in and around journalism, I’ve never seen anyone in such a vaunted position as Trump go after the press so relentlessly and with such a broad brush…I mean, “not good people”??? It would be one thing if he said reports about him were “unfair” or “not objective.” But when he says journalists as a whole are “not good,” I get the distinct impression he thinks they’re evil. Or at least he wants his audience to think they’re evil.
Trump doesn’t hesitate to light into individual journalists, too. At today’s news conference, he called ABC’s Tom Llamas “a sleaze” and CNN’s Jim Acosta “a real beauty.”
A few days ago, when New York Times reporters Maggie Haberman and Ashley Parker asked him for a comment on a story they were working on about his campaign team and its management, he sent them an email saying, “You two wouldn’t know how to write a good story about me if you tried — dream on.”
…So what is with these attacks? Trump, as we know, is crazy like a fox. My guess is he’s banking on the public’s low regard of journalists to help jack up his popularity. The theory being, I suppose, that if you put the hammer to a bunch of rats, a lot of people are going to cheer you on…Maybe he’s even aware that journalists have become less popular with women, among whom Trump is tremendously unpopular.
There’s another dimension of this story, though, and it goes like this: Never get in a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.
Do you think Llamas and Acosta and Haberman and Parker — and their editors — might go looking for unflattering stories about Trump?
Of course, they are smart enough that they will not blatantly attempt to tar him. They will make sure they can justify any stories they write — or air — as timely and “newsworthy.” They will also make the requisite calls for comment and do what is necessary to insure their stories reflect their best efforts to be objective and fair. But, my gosh, Trump has declared war on journalists, and I don’t think he realizes how badly he’s outnumbered and outgunned.