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Trump Backer On The President And The Press


This morning, we're hearing two views on President Trump's relationship with the media. Elsewhere in the program, we heard from Congressman Keith Ellison, a Democrat of Minnesota. We're going to hear now from Chris Buskirk. He's the editor and publisher of the conservative website American Greatness and also the author of a book by the same name about how conservatives missed the 2016 election. Hey, Chris. Thanks for being back on the show.

CHRIS BUSKIRK: Oh, it's my pleasure. How are you?

MARTIN: I'm doing well. I want to start our conversation by playing a clip of our interview with Congressman Ellison. Let's listen to what he had to say.

KEITH ELLISON: What he's doing through his Twitter account and in other ways is circumventing the whole system to intimidate people, to pack courts, to intimidate the press, also that he can just sort of run everything himself. And we fought a war of independence against somebody, King George, who was trying to do that. So this is really why I'm actually kind of concerned about his use of social media.

MARTIN: All right. Chris Buskirk, do you agree that the president's use of the media, and social media in particular, circumvents the system in a dangerous way?

BUSKIRK: Well, boy, I never thought I would at least halfway agree with Keith Ellison. I agree with him in the sense that it circumvents the media. Where we part ways is that I think that's a good thing. I think it is - I think it is positive for any politician - I don't care if it's the president or Keith Ellison - to go direct to the people and make their case and let the people decide political decisions for themselves.

MARTIN: Although it's not just circumventing, say, the mainstream press as some kind of gatekeeper of his message. I mean, we saw just yesterday, the president tweeted out a major policy decision, announcing that the U.S. military was no longer going to accept any transgender people in any role. This went down while his own secretary of defense was on vacation. There are reports that retired General Mattis, secretary of defense, didn't even know that this was going to transpire in this way. Does that give you pause?

BUSKIRK: Yeah. Well, I don't know, obviously, the inner workings of the discussions between the president the secretary of defense. You know, if we're going to ask whether I think it's - if it's good bad or otherwise for politicians to disintermediate, that is to take - to communicate directly with their constituents, I think that's an unmitigated good. That gives people direct access to the information. And they can make their own decisions. Then it's up to people in the media - you, me, others - to figure out what to do with that information. I think that raises the stakes for people in the media to try and respond quickly and intelligently. That's the difficult part.

MARTIN: How would you describe President Trump's relationship with the media writ large? I mean, his constant use of the phrase fake news to describe anything that he doesn't like. Is it part of a larger strategy to undermine the public's faith in the press in order to discredit those criticisms?

BUSKIRK: Well, I think the media has done a pretty good job of discrediting itself. You know, I look at polling data on this. And you see the president with a job approval rating, you know, someplace in the 40s depending on the day. But the media's in the 30s. And Congress is, you know, Congress is sort of 10 or 12 percent. I look at this more at a - not a 10,000-foot level but a 50,000-foot level.

And I say that - I say that the American public in general has a loss of faith in some of the major institutions in politics and the culture. That has its own set of concerns. Is Donald Trump the cause of that? No, that's been going on for a long, long time. And that is - but that's something that I think we need to try and re-establish faith and trust in all of these institutions, whether it be Congress or the media or the presidency.

MARTIN: So the gist of your book is how the conservative establishment you say missed the 2016 election. And you include the conservative media in that. Are you essentially conflating the conservative establishment media with the, quote, "mainstream press"? You think of them all in one big camp now?

BUSKIRK: Well, it certainly has been true in the past, I don't know, a few years for sure. But I would - and we say this - we talk about this in the book, which is that this is something that's been going on for a long time. You know, but it sort of came to the fore in 2015 and 2016. And, you know, it left me sort of scratching my head, saying, well, why is it that that the editors at National Review or the editors of The Weekly Standard seemed to have more in common with the editors at Buzzfeed or the editors at Vice than they do with the voters when it comes to the presidential election?

I thought, you know, this tells me something. Like the president, don't like the president, you have to say that this is unusual. There has always been this stark divide on politics. There's a right-left divide, or at least there has been a right-left divide. That's what our politics is about. How do we decide between one vision of government and another? That's fine. That's politics. I get it.

But when I saw the entire sort of mainstream or establishment media - right and left - converging and coalescing around a single opinion, I found that troubling. And that made me start - and this is why I wrote the book - I start to think that maybe the divide right now isn't so much right and left. Maybe the divide is between a what I would call a ruling class and a country class. Maybe it's - maybe there's a divide that's between Washington and the rest of the country. I live in Phoenix, as you know.


BUSKIRK: But - and I, you know, I saw that, you know, Donald Trump goes out to these rallies. He had one in Ohio. And he gets a very different response than what he gets in the D.C. media, in the New York media.

MARTIN: Chris Buskirk, author of "American Greatness: How Conservative, Inc. Missed The 2016 Election" (ph). Thanks, Chris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.