As we stumble toward the 100-day mark of the Trump presidency, the president’s frequent assaults on the news media appear to have taken on a distinct purpose. With the White House visibly agitated by the possibility of brutally negative 100-day coverage of President Donald Trump’s tenure so far, he has insisted that the press is misrepresenting his record, while also vastly inflating it himself — thus preparing his voters to dismiss everything they are being told about his historic lack of accomplishments.
A new Post-ABC News poll suggests that this may be working for Trump. It finds that enormous majorities of his voters believe the news media regularly publishes false stories. Even bigger majorities of them believe the news media’s falsehoods are a bigger problem than the Trump administration’s falsehoods are, while only small fractions think the administration tells falsehoods or that his lies are the greater problem. Just look at these findings, which I pulled from the crosstabs:
80 percent of Trump voters think it’s a bigger problem that news organizations produce false stories, while only 3 percent of them think it’s a bigger problem that the Trump administration makes false claims. (Among Republicans overall, this is 69-14.)
Only 17 percent of Trump voters think the Trump administration regularly makes false claims, while 76 percent of Trump voters think it doesn’t. (Among Republicans overall, this is 31-65.)
By contrast, 78 percent of Trump voters think that news organizations regularly produce false stories, while only 19 percent of them think otherwise. (Among Republicans overall, this is 70-27.)
Meanwhile, 84 percent of Trump voters think he’s keeping most of his major campaign promises, while only 4 percent think he isn’t, and 89 percent of them think he’s honest and trustworthy.
The question is whether those things are related: Amid increased press scrutiny of Trump’s falsehoods and failings, do Trump’s assaults on the media — and the related widespread belief among Trump voters that the media regularly produces false stories — further bond them to Trump and make them more likely to believe he’s succeeding?
It’s possible. Note this finding from another new poll of Trump voters, this one from the University of Virginia Center for Politics Poll:
Nearly nine in 10 respondents (88 percent) said that media criticism of Trump reinforces that the president is on the right track, and the same percentage agreed with Trump’s assertion that the press is “the enemy of the American people.”
The lies that tumble from Trump himself are unprecedented in scope, audacity and frequency. The Post fact-checking team documented more than 400 false or misleading statements as of Day 91 of his presidency. Other administration members have taken their cues from this, particularly press secretary Sean Spicer, who set the tone early on by lying about Trump’s inaugural crowd sizes and accusing the press of falsely diminishing them. Yet to Trump voters, not only does this reality not exist at all; such critical media scrutiny of him and his administration also is a sign that he’s doing something right — that he’s on their side, and the news media is the enemy.
Now, a few caveats. Americans more broadly take a very dim view of the media, too: Fifty-two percent say news organizations regularly produce false stories, and Americans say very narrowly that the administration’s falsehoods are the bigger problem, by only 43-40. (One bright spot: Fifty-nine percent say the administration regularly tells falsehoods.) What’s more, these findings among Trump voters could reflect generalized hostility toward the press and a general desire for Trump to prevail. And as The Post’s Callum Borchers notes, it’s hard to measure what counts as a “false” media story, making public sentiment about the press hard to discern.
Meanwhile, as Politico Magazine recently detailed, behind the scenes, Trump and the administration have a somewhat more conventional relationship with reporters than his theatrical assaults on the media suggest. It’s also unclear how far Trump’s media strategy will ultimately get him: Even if his voters nod along with it, the broader mainstream sees Trump as dishonest and disapproves of his performance at historic levels.
Still, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Trump is accomplishing one of his key goals. In the minds of his voters, at least, his project to obliterate shared agreement on the legitimate institutional role of the media in informing the citizenry proceeds apace.
Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant.