Veteran journalist Lesley Stahl revealed that Trump once admitted to her that his attacks on the press are part of a strategy to 'demean' and 'discredit' reporters so no one believes negative coverage about him.
Trump once told veteran "60 Minutes" journalist Lesley Stahl that his attacks on the press are meant to "demean" and "discredit" reporters so that the American public will not believe "negative stories" about him, Stahl said.
Stahl's revelation, which came during the annual Deadline Club Awards Dinner on Monday night, appears to confirm what many have long suspected: Trump's assault on the press is not just random outbursts of rage, but rather part of a strategy that was carefully crafted by a man who deeply feared what he knew was coming.
Recalling her post-election interview with Trump, Stahl said that she and her boss met with Trump in his office ahead of the "60 Minutes" recording, which was his first TV interview after the 2016 election.
"And at one point he started to attack the press, and it’s just me and my boss and him … he’s attacking the press and there were no cameras, there was nothing going on," Stahl told the audience.
"And I said, 'You know that is getting tired, why are you doing this? You are doing it over and over, it’s boring, it’s time to end that. You know, you've won ... why do you keep hammering at this?'"
According to Stahl, Trump responded with what might be the most honest statement he has ever made.
"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."
Stahl paused as the room of journalists absorbed what they had just heard, then added: "He said that. So, put that in your head for a minute."
The disclosure is at once shocking yet entirely unsurprising.
Trump's attacks on the press have been one of the most defining characteristics of his political career. From the earliest days of his campaign through the first year of his presidency and into the second, Trump has relentlessly waged war on the free press, seeking to erode the institution that can most effectively constrain his abuses of power.
His war on the press has included popularizing the term "fake news" — which he uses to describe negative stories about him, even when the stories are reporting his own words — as well as calling to ban words and books that he doesn't like, demanding the firing of journalists who make honest mistakes, shutting reporters out of White House events, and threatening to revoke press credentials from journalists who report unflattering stories about him.
Trump regularly uses his platform as a megaphone to promote his personal propaganda arm, Fox News, and then turns that platform into a bully pulpit to rail against other news outlets and take aim at negative reports about him or others in his administration.
In many instances, reports that Trump blasted as "fake news" have turned out to be entirely correct — like the recent New York Times article reporting that Trump was poised to hire an impeachment lawyer. Just weeks after slamming the article as "false" and "wrong," Trump hired impeachment lawyer Emmet Flood, exactly as the Times had reported.
Trump has declared the press to be the "enemy of the people" and appears to derive sadistic pleasure from egging on his supporters to join him in mocking, demeaning, and inciting violence against journalists.
To some degree, Trump's frequent eruptions and rage-tweets blasting the "mainstream media" are clearly designed to rally the troops and play to his rabid base — a ritual that mirrors what George Orwell's dystopian classic "1984" described as the daily "Two Minutes of Hate," a mandatory exercise during which the people collectively turned their anger against critics of the government.
But as Stahl's disclosure reveals, there is a more sinister motive underlying Trump's attacks on the press. He does it to demean and discredit journalists, to undermine the legitimacy of the press, and ultimately to dismantle what was once referred to as the fourth branch of government.
Just like his assault on the independence of the judiciary, Trump has taken aim at the press so he can govern without constraint, oversight, or accountability, and so he can delegitimize legitimate questions about his actions before those questions are even asked.
His strategy was carefully planned, apparently in anticipation of damning information that he knew would come out eventually. It was part of the cover-up from the start.
And at least among his core supporters, the strategy has been devastatingly effective. Despite his track record of lying, Trump's true believers accept every word he says as fact while uncritically dismissing thorough reporting, fact-checked articles, and even evidence from U.S. intelligence agencies.
We need look no further than the response to Stahl's reporting to confirm just how effectively Trump's strategy has indoctrinated his supporters. Just hours after the footage of Stahl was released, Twitchy, a right-wing Twitter curation platform founded by conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, responded to Stahl's revelation by predictably declaring that it must be fake.
After all, it's a negative story about Trump, so of course it couldn't be true. Trump said so.