CBS News’ Lesley Stahl spoke this week at an event in New York and shared a previously unreported exchange she had with Donald Trump during his presidential transition process.
To be sure, this isn’t surprising. It’s hard to imagine any serious observer making the case that Trump’s attacks on media professionals and news organizations are sincere criticisms of modern standards in American journalism. Like any leader with unhealthy authoritarian instincts, this president sees the media as an obstacle, providing the electorate with facts he’d prefer the public not know.
Stahl said she and her boss met with Trump at his office in Trump Tower in Manhattan after the 2016 election in advance of a recorded sit-down interview for “60 Minutes.”
“At one point, he started to attack the press,” Stahl said. “There were no cameras in there.”
“I said, ‘You know, this is getting tired. Why are you doing it over and over? It’s boring and it’s time to end that. You know, you’ve won … why do you keep hammering at this?’” Stahl recalled.
“And he said: ‘You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.’”
But as powerful as Stahl’s anecdote is, and as easy it is to believe, it’s worth appreciating this in the larger context – because Trump isn’t just attacking the free press.
Trump tries to discredit pollsters so that when they publish results he doesn’t like, much of the public won’t believe them.
Trump tries to discredit law enforcement officials so that when they pursue allegations he doesn’t like, much of the public won’t believe them.
Trump tries to discredit the courts so that when they issue rulings he doesn’t like, much of the public won’t believe them.
Trump tries to discredit the Congressional Budget Office so that when it releases data he doesn’t like, much of the public won’t believe it.
And on and on and on. The president has taken aim at the credibility of anyone and anything that might offer Americans inconvenient truths, from U.S. intelligence agencies to the Bureau of Labor Statistics to inauguration photographers.
Trump’s overt offensive against journalism is outrageous, but it’s part of a presidential war on empiricism.