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Trump’s Syria Attack and Our Abject Media

Many in the media are at their most credulous and indulgent when the president is at his most dangerous.

Margaret Sullivan criticizes the absurdly fawning coverage that Trump’s attack on the Syrian government received:

The cruise missiles struck, and many in the mainstream media fawned.

“I think Donald Trump became president of the United States last night,” declared Fareed Zakaria on CNN, after firing of 59 missiles at a Syrian military airfield late Thursday night.

The problem here isn’t just that so many people in the media reflexively supported the decision to attack, but that were pouring adulation on a president that many of them otherwise regard as unfit or untrustworthy at a time when skepticism was more warranted than ever. If one already has doubts about Trump’s judgment, it is when he orders the use of force that his judgment needs to be questioned more than ever. One reason that the U.S. can so easily and frequently resort to the use of force overseas is that the people that should be the first to question a president’s decision are instead among the first to cheer and celebrate it.

Zakaria’s statement is ridiculous, but unfortunately reflects a common assumption about what being the president means. For Zakaria and quite a few others, a willingness to deal out death and destruction to other parts of the world is what makes someone seem “presidential.” Worse still, they are most inclined to defer to the president when he is using (or abusing) military power, so that they are at their most credulous and indulgent when the president is at his most dangerous. That is all the more worrisome when we remember how obsessed this president is with how he is portrayed in the media, since it will probably encourage him to order other hasty attacks in the hopes of receiving more adoring coverage.