BY THE time he got around to presenting his long-promised "2017 Fake News Awards," even President Donald Trump seemed to be losing interest in the hostile spirit of the event.
After tweeting a link to his list of winning - or, if you prefer, losing - journalists and news organizations, Trump tweeted another message that sounded almost apologetic:
"Despite some very corrupt and dishonest media coverage," he tweeted, "there are many great reporters I respect and lots of GOOD NEWS for the American people to be proud of!"
WITH that sweet little air-kiss to the media that his awards list dumps on, Trump gave away a reality of Trump World: As much as he attacks the "fake," "lying" or "corrupt" news media - and unapologetically picks up Twitter material from Fox News programs - he also signals to reporters that, as in the Corleone family in "The Godfather" book and movies, it's just business; don't take it personally.
He still picks up the phone and offers exclusives to the "failing New York Times" (which really isn't) or other mainstream media as it suits his purpose.
Let us not forget that the wealthy real estate developer also spent many years starring in his own reality TV show, "The Apprentice," and performing in the WWE, among other adventures. In a way, Trump's experience behind and in front of cameras is so extensive that, for him, taking on the role of media critic sounds almost like a conflict of interest.
AND considering his deplorable record of issuing "alternative facts," as famously declared by one of his spokespeople (The Washington Post has listed more than 2,000 false or misleading quotes from him in his first year in office), taking media criticism from Trump is sort of like taking dating advice from Bill Cosby: Even if it's good advice, the source has a credibility problem.
"The interest in, and importance of, these awards," he said, "is far greater than anyone could have anticipated!"
But when the event came up, it was remarkably low-key for the famously flamboyant and larger-than-life Trump. No Oscar-worthy red carpets, limos or Hollywood reporters asking what people were wearing.
INSTEAD there was a tweet from Trump with a link to the Republican Party's gop.com website, which immediately crashed under the sudden spike in demand. Some wags have found some symbolism in that, as though the Grand Old Party still isn't ready for the arrival of Trump and his loyal new tribe of the Trumpicons.
Ready or not, it soon became apparent why Trump had gone low-key with his list. As a list of abuses of truth or the public trust, it flops. That's because most major media have this habit of correcting errors as soon as possible. Trump has a habit, cultivated long before he became president, of almost never apologizing for or even admitting to making a mistake.
His top award went not to a news reporter but to award-winning columnist Paul Krugman for an opinion on "the day of President Trump's historic landslide victory that the economy would never recover," the White House wrote.
IT'S EASY to see why Trump would want to remind everybody that the stock market has surged, contrary to Krugman's doomsday prediction. But, as the Washington Post's Fact Checker pointed out, Krugman retracted that prediction three days later, noting that "it is possible that bigger budget deficits will, if anything, strengthen the economy briefly."
The same was true of the other 10 award winners, which included a couple of tweets that were quickly deleted and never went into print as news.
An exception: The final award, which apparently was directed at the media in general, went to "Russian collusion" as "perhaps the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people." Alas, as everyone should know, special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees led by Republicans are still investigating, so that award is premature at best.
BUT that award also reveals the true aim of the fake news awards: political propaganda at the expense of facts. Since that's the confidential definition of "fake news," let's give that grand prize to Trump himself and his administration - as a full employment program for fact checkers.
Every president complains about their news coverage. Few put it in center stage as Trump has. As he becomes more accustomed to his new job, he still slips back into his old one: a reality TV star who is eager to create his own reality.
(Write to Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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