Part of President Donald Trump’s campaigning—and governing—strategy is to denigrate and discredit the media. It’s not an entirely new approach from Republican elected officials, but the scope and tenor of Trump’s statements is clearly something new and destabilizing. Trump’s approach is not to be critical of unflattering press of his presidency—it’s to dismiss and demolish the idea that anything that doesn’t come from his mouth or fingers could be true. Part of this process of degradation of common understanding is to personalize the news, to make reporting and facts indistinguishable from the human journalists who uncovered them. This approach, Axios reports, has gained enough traction in Trump circles that allies of the president are trying to raise $2 million to launch a broad program of investigating journalists deemed hostile to Trump’s reelection chances.
The three-page fundraising pitch plans on using the funds to target reporters and editors, trawling for embarrassing statements that will then be laundered through friendly media outlets of the far right, like Breitbart News. The “Primary Targets”? “CNN, MSNBC, all broadcast networks, NY Times, Washington Post, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, and all others that routinely incorporate bias and misinformation in to their coverage,” the prospectus says. “We will also track the reporters and editors of these organizations.”
The Trump allies are trying to build on momentum they got from, ahem, a New York Times report last month, which reported that “a loose network of conservative operatives” was on the prowl and had “compiled dossiers of potentially embarrassing social media posts and other public statements by hundreds of people who work at some of the country’s most prominent news organizations.” “The research is said to extend to members of journalists’ families who are active in politics, as well as liberal activists and other political opponents of the president,” according to the Times. “Some involved in the operation have histories of bluster and exaggeration. And those willing to describe its techniques and goals may be trying to intimidate journalists or their employers.”