Media Elite? Enemy of the American People? Not so much.

Dave Bangert is a writer with the (Lafayette) Journal & Courier.
By: 
Dave Bangert
Columnist

In August editorial boards at newspapers across the U.S., prompted by the Boston Globe, were expected to confront President Donald Trump for going onabout “fake news” and calling the media the “enemy of the American people.”
Call it a noble cause – one that dominates conversations I have with sources, on the left, the right and everywhere in between, on a nearly daily basis as we talk about trust and, specifically, whether they believe they’ve been treated fairly and accurately in what I write. (Not whether they agree with what I write, but whether it reflects who they are, what they’ve done and how they’ve said things.)
Whether calling out Trump will get him to stand down in any way or will sway his biggest fans – many of whom answer my phone calls on subjects big and small – to question the president’s motives here, I have my doubts that mainstream voices are going to change Trump hearts.
“Fake news,” so abstract and generally fake in and of itself, is such a convenient out. “Enemy of the American people” is irresponsibly easy, because it works to whip up a rally. Just ask Jim Acosta, a CNN reporter surrounded, heckled and threatened during a rally in Tampa, Florida, that set the Globe’s call for a First Amendment line of defense.
Most striking that night, though, were the scenes after the president left the stage. Acosta shook hands with those protesting his coverage and had face-to-face conversations with those willing. Who, if anyone, Acosta actually calmed or persuaded that he was something less than an enemy, who knows?
But that one-on-one contact spoke volumes about the taxing job of coaxing time and faith out of readers, out of viewers and out of those holding onto stories that need to be told without being undermined by a daily drumbeat from the president’s Twitter feed.
A year ago this week, U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita stood in front of a backdrop dotted with his fresh campaign slogan, “Defeat the Elite,” and told several dozen Greater Lafayette Republican faithful about how he planned to punch through a rigged system the way Trump had and to give an entitled ruling class what for.
Standing near the front of the Henry Poor Lumber showroom on Brady Lane on one of several stops meant to formally announce his run for U.S. Senate, the 4th District congressman said he was going to take on Elite Politicians, including those in his own party, who spent more time in Washington, D.C., than they did at home. He was going to take on Elites from the Coasts who didn’t understand the concept of American Exceptionalism. And he was going to take Media Elites who, well, didn’t get much of anything at all.
He gave a nod to the back of the gathering, where I was camped out among the granite countertops of display kitchens, to take issue with a critical piece that week in the J&C about stacking his campaign promises against his role in a past federal shutdown – the premise, he said, “was wrong, by the way” – and laughed about how he’d “take it up with the reporter later.”
At which point, a number of the supporters in the room – nearly every one of whom I knew from around town, if not as a source, no matter how friendly or skeptical – pivoted in their chairs at the Media Elite line, smirked and pointed my direction: He’s talking about you! Like I’d been busted for getting out of line on the playground.
All in good fun, really, as far as occupational hazards go.
Outside Henry Poor, after time for a handful of questions from a small scrum of local TV reporters, Rokita and I talked briefly before the campaign loaded into his custom-wrapped, red-white-and-blue Humvee and moved onto the next place where the Elite needed to be Defeated.
He shared his beef about that week’s column. Fair enough.
I asked if it felt weird relying on the phrase “The Media Elite” in Indiana markets dominated by reporters getting to assignments in hatchbacks. (Jim Acosta and CNN, we’re not. As if that matters.)
Rokita sort of laughed rather than answering. Instead, Rokita insisted that his campaign manager take a picture on a cell phone in that parking lot to prove that a congressman and a columnist could at least stand together long enough to make a snapshot work. The finger across the top of the frame was just a bonus.
But Rokita kept up with that twist on the Trump playbook in ads and public appearances throughout a campaign that came up short in May 2018, when he lost along with U.S. Rep. Luke Messer to former state Rep. Mike Braun in what turned into one long, brutal primary season.
That afternoon, after Rokita left, there were no hecklers coming out of Henry Poor. Instead, there was face-to-face commiseration about the first days of school, the end of the Colt World Series, reminders that registration was coming up for the 100 Men Who Cook fundraiser and conversations about worthy tips, which were converted into stories in the following weeks.
Media Elite? Enemy of the American People?
Not so much. I wish the president had been there to see it, there among his crowd.