In the height of the Great Depression, the stock market had crashed. Farmlands across the U.S. and Canada were destroyed by the ravages of severe dust storms known as the Dust Bowl. And many once-proud citizens were forced to eke out a meager living selling apples or pencils on street corners in our major cities.
With that as his backdrop, Franklin D. Roosevelt offered the nation both hope and a warning when he declared in his 1933 Inaugural address: “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Although he was dead before I was born, I am thinking about FDR a lot this week because of events that continue to unfold on the linear equivalent of professional wrestling: cable TV news.
First, President Trump was asked by a reporter at the White House if we are “at war” with the Wuhan coronavirus and he responded that he felt like a wartime president as his administration battles to reduce the spread of the virus and ease its economic impact.
He didn't declare himself a “wartime president”… but just his observation of feeling like one set off torrents of criticism from the usual suspects: CNN, The New York Times, MSNBC and other media miscreants yowled about the idea that Trump was “comparing himself to FDR.” Um, he wasn’t. And it reminded me that despite the monumental challenges he faced pulling America back from the economic brink, FDR didn’t face 24/7 sniping from jackals on cable news trying to undermine everything he did. (If CNN had existed in 1933, chances are pretty good that the WPA, Social Security, Unemployment Insurance and dozens of other FDR initiatives might never have seen the light of day).
Secondly, when MSNBC’s Peter Alexander suggested at another White House briefing that the president “may be giving Americans a false sense of hope” by offering upbeat assessments of a potential use of an anti-malaria drug to treat coronavirus, the president asked, “What the hell have we got to lose?” by trying it. Alexander—whose network is populated by such giants of journalism as Rachel Maddow and the Rev. Al Sharpton—wouldn’t quit, asking in a follow-up what Trump had to offer to millions of Americans “watching you right now and are scared.”
The president replied: “I’d say that you’re a terrible reporter, that’s what I’d say. ... I think it’s a very nasty question, and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people. [They] are looking for answers, and they’re looking for hope. And you’re doing sensationalism. And the same with NBC and Concast — I don’t call it Comcast, I call it Concast.”
Point. Match. Trump.
But naturally, in the editorial newsrooms of America and on the cable networks Trump was excoriated for “attacking” a “respected journalist”—insert laugh-track here—“just doing his job.” The Washington Post deemed Trump’s remarks “a jarring moment as the nation grapples with uncertainty.” Talking heads on cable from CNN’s John King (who journalistically referred to the president as having leveled a “bulls**t attack”) to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell (who was literally trembling as she debriefed Alexander and telling him she couldn’t believe he “was able to maintain your composure”) did what they always do and immediately made the story about themselves. Orange Mad Bad. There’s no “fake news,” etc.
Helpful consumer tip for snowflakes in the Beltway press corps: if you keep playing your dopey game of “Poke the Bear” with this president, don’t be surprised if you get a few claw marks when he stands up to you.
As vice president of news for a major national radio network, I can safely say that we are perfectly able to serve our thousands of affiliates with breaking news twice each hour, 24/7, without dispatching our White House correspondent or Capitol Hill reporters to news conferences with marching orders to find ways to make President Trump look bad or to belittle his administration’s efforts in the current health crisis.
Or by beaming daily “updates” on the coronavirus from Lilliputians like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (who cable TV has apparently knighted as a “President in Absentia,” fawning over his every word.) Did IQs suddenly drop in network newsrooms? The virus is now in all 50 states, each of which has its own governor. Is there any reason—other than the MSMs ongoing anti-Trump agenda—that Cuomo is the only one featured daily in live updates?
To paraphrase FDR’s 1933 observation: “It is my firm belief that we have nothing to fear but biased media itself.”
Tom Tradup is V.P./News & Talk Programming at the Salem Radio Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org