Unless Your Name is Trump, Battling the Media Is for Losers

By Gene Grabowski

This message is for corporate leaders, politicians, civic organizers and any others watching President Donald Trump battle the news media and thinking “Wow, it’s about time someone put those biased $#&@#! journalists in their place! More of us should do it.”

Here’s the message: Making an enemy of the news media was and always is poor strategy. History has demonstrated time and again that it won’t work. This goes for presidents and it goes double for companies and other organizations seeking to influence public thinking.

Yes, I know Trump has had some success end-running reporters and editors with his Twitter commentary and delighting his core constituents by publicly bashing several liberal-leaning news organizations.

But his short-term success comes with the price of making powerful long-term enemies. The news media were here long before Trump arrived and they will be here long after he departs Washington. Moreover, they’re doing their job. Hate them if you will, but they are supposed to be the thorn in the side of any administration. In fact, they are given a special place – right up there with the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of the U.S. government – in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Don’t get me wrong. I myself was a news reporter for nearly 12 years. I covered the White House during President Reagan’s final term in office. I know first-hand that many news outlets occasionally get the facts wrong, that they can be unfair and that too often the bias of news reporters and editors is evident in the stories they publish about government – and frequently about kglobal’s current corporate clients.

Still, the U.S. Constitution supports the three branches of government AND a free press – specifically so they can restrain each other and protect all citizens from the excesses that arise from unchecked power of institutions.

Founding Father Thomas Jefferson himself said in a letter to the Continental Congress in 1787: “If it were left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

More than a few people cheered when White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon recently made his own quite un-Jeffersonian declaration. “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” he told The New York Times.

I wish Mr. Bannon luck with his approach. But I’ve learned through years of experience that it’s better to find ways to work with the news media and treat them with at least some respect than to fight them head on. With patience and strategy, even they can be charmed and persuaded and sometimes their power can be leveraged to your advantage.

And while we’re digging up quotes about media relations, here’s one that is often attributed to the great Mark Twain: “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” Just ask Richard Nixon.

If you’re looking for someone with over 25 years of crisis communications + issues management experience who can help you build and protect your reputation, contact Gene directly.


Gene is a Partner at kglobal. He is focused on creating and managing successful campaigns for corporations, trade associations, non-profits and universities. Gene was named Crisis Manager of the Year for his effective work on numerous high-stakes issues and speaks frequently on strategic crisis management. He writes about trends in issues management and public relations. You can follow him on Twitter @crisisguru, read his tips on the kglobal blog or e-mail him.