President Donald Trump has turned the White House press conference into an exhilarating spectacle.
Whether it’s the daily press briefing or a formal press conference with the president, news networks have become fixated on the image of the Trump White House publicly brawling with journalists who challenge them in front of TV cameras. Major cable news networks often air these press conferences live, treating them like title fights in the middle of the day and analyzing them endlessly once they’re over.
These public confrontations have captured the media’s attention over the past few years — not because the disputes themselves are that interesting, but because they carry tremendous symbolic value. The White House press conference is supposed to represent a fundamental democratic ideal: that the government should be willing to answer to the public in good faith. Watching Trump attack and demonize reporters challenges that ideal. It represents a breakdown in a basic democratic norm, and that itself feels newsworthy.
But it’s worth asking how valuable it is to air these confrontations on national TV. Trump has made demonizing the press a central part of his political strategy. His political identity revolves around the idea that he’s being attacked by a biased and unruly press. And these press conferences give him the visual aids he needs to reinforce that identity with his supporters — a chance to publicly present himself as a victim standing up to an unruly mob.
For Trump, staging big, dramatic confrontations is the point. And that should give pause to news networks that readily air these press conferences in the name of accountability.
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