Navarrette: Playground antics of Trump and media get in the way of fighting the virus

Americans have more urgent things to do than police another schoolyard fight between President Trump and the media.

I get that. But this dysfunctional relationship is everyone’s concern — especially now. We’re facing two wars. And the war between Trump and the media threatens to get in the way of fighting the war on the invisible but deadly coronavirus.

Trump is right that many in the media — especially the White House press corps — are dishonest, unfair and agenda-driven.

But the media are right that Trump has a gift for snatching incompetence from the jaws of leadership.

Given the difficulty many Americans are having in adhering to the “stay-at-home” order, why would the president even talk about returning to “an open country, an open economy”?

On Tuesday, the president made clear that he is in a hurry to declare the United States reopened for business by Easter.

Weeks? It’ll take that long to get people to stop treating a quarantine like a vacation where they go to beaches and parks.

Last week, Trump hit his stride by using daily White House press briefings on the virus to convince Americans to take this global health crisis seriously. Now he undermines those efforts by projecting the image that he himself doesn’t take the situation seriously.

No wonder I keep having this dream where New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — whose briefings are clear, informative, reassuring and, best of all, not about Cuomo — confronts Trump and the Democrat essentially says: “Look at me. I am the president now.”

At the same time, the media keep showing the country how broken they are.

A few weeks ago, Michele Norris — acclaimed radio journalist, and former host of NPR’s “All Things Considered” — was asked by David Axelrod on his podcast what makes a good storyteller. Noting that journalists are mere vessels, Norris responded: “Someone who knows how to get out of the way.”

Exactly. The trouble starts when journalists forget that rule and go from covering the story to becoming the story.

You see a lot of that in the toxic relationship between Trump and the media, which — like Trump — can’t seem to stay out of their own way. Journalists, especially those of the anti-Trump variety, tend to make the story about themselves, their colleagues and their profession.

Humility is a scarce commodity in the Trump administration, but the shortage extends to the media.

Exhibit A: NBC News’ Peter Alexander. During a contentious briefing last week, the White House reporter asked Trump if he thought his “positive spin” on how to fight the virus was giving Americans “false hope.”

Lovely. Can’t you just see Alexander, in 1933, asking Franklin D. Roosevelt if he wasn’t being overly optimistic in saying how Americans had nothing to fear but fear itself?

Trump answered the question, and he was polite. He explained that he is an optimistic person, and that he didn’t see the problem with that.

Then Alexander interrupted a colleague to ask a “follow-up” question that was more pointed and argumentative. Americans are scared, he told Trump. What would the president say to them?

Then Trump got angry and insulted Alexander. And the train went off the tracks. A handful of other journalists rushed to defend Alexander’s honor and take jabs at Trump. Why? Because the story is always about us.

Here’s where the peacock stepped on his tail. After the incident, Alexander claimed in an interview with NBC News that he had tossed Trump a “softball” that he thought would help the president by giving him the chance to be “positive.”

Ah. Let me get this straight. Alexander claims he was helping Trump do something that he had, just moments earlier, criticized him for doing? Besides, it’s not the reporter’s role to help Trump or to hurt him. Just to get information.

Here’s my advice to fellow journalists, which they’re going to ignore anyway — especially if they work east of the Potomac: Do your job, and no one else’s. Stay out the way, and don’t make the story about you. Steer clear of the arena, because you’re not paid to be a combatant. And, if you feel the burning desire to debate a president, resign your cushy job and run for office.

Now, these are serious times. So, if Trump and the media think they can play nice in the sandbox, the grown-ups have work to do.

— Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group.

Today's Bible verse

“But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children.”

— Psalm 103:17

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