My former CBS News colleague, Leslie Stahl, recently revealed something troubling, something she says Donald Trump told her, off camera, in 2016 after he already had enough votes to win the GOP nomination for president.
Stahl says she told Mr. Trump that his constant bashing of the media was getting old.
“Why are you doing it? she says she asked him. “You’re doing it over and over and it’s boring. It’s time to end that, you’ve won the nomination. And why do you keep hammering at this?”
According to Stahl, the man who would be president responded with this: “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”
I wasn’t there. But I’ve had conversations over the years with both of them. I believe Leslie Stahl. Besides, her version of events sounds like something Donald Trump would say.
But what was the context of that conversation? Was Donald Trump joking? Maybe, but not likely. He hasn’t displayed much of a sense of humor over the years – unless you count his behavior itself as funny.
And before we go too far, let’s acknowledge that there are journalists out there who are just as bad, just as dishonest as they claim the president is. More than a few of them discredit and demean the president so that when he says things, no one will believe him.
But, as we used to say in third grade, two wrongs don’t make a right.
So what should we make of this comment, that he goes after the media for cynical political reasons? There are more than a few takeaways. One is that he doesn’t understand that in a free country we need not only a free press but also a press that has the trust of the American people. Yes, journalists have done their share to discredit themselves. But we don’t need the president contributing to what is already an unhealthy situation.
Another takeaway is that he does understand but doesn’t care. All that counts as far as Donald J. Trump is concerned is that Donald J. Trump looks good. And if yelling fake news whenever a story pops up that puts him in a negative light, he’ll yell fake news all day long.
But it’s not only the press that we need to have confidence in. It’s not only the media that we need to believe. We also need a president that we have confidence in, that we need to believe is telling the truth when he talks to us. This president has given us plenty of reason to question his honesty. Too often he has a long distance relationship with the truth.
But even if there was incontrovertible proof substantiating what Leslie Stahl says, even if there was a video tape of Mr. Trump saying he attacks journalists so the public at large won’t believe them when they report something negative about him, the president’s most devoted fans almost certainly wouldn’t care. They love him and they hate the media. And if their messiah lies about journalists to cover his own lies — that, I’m confident, would be no big deal as far as those who adore him are concerned.
And that may be the most troubling, and depressing, part of all of this.