Team of Vipers
Cliff Sims
Contributed by Shemika Thormahlen
Chapter 13

The love-hate relationship between Trump and the media is down to many reasons. One of these has to do with Trump’s personality, specifically where he does not accept anything from the media which he deems to be unfair; they are only right when the stories about him are positive. In many cases, Trump termed negative media reports about him as “fake news”. It is from one of his many controversial tweets about media reports that Sims coined the phrase “Enemy of the People”. When people want a country where the media acts as the link between the government and the people, and where the media is corrected objectively when they make mistakes, Trump apparently is always looking for an opportunity for the media to be wrong so that he can get one over them: “Trump sincerely held most members of the media in low regard—that wasn’t for show. But what he didn’t like to admit was that he also craved their approval. Decades in the New York City tabloids had convinced him that being the topic of conversation—whether positive or negative—was what really mattered.” The media had put themselves in a situation where they lowered their standards, became highly inaccurate, and ultimately put themselves at loggerheads with the President.

While appreciating the weaknesses of Trump, Sims also blames the media for this situation. For example, there are many instances where the media has shown open bias against the Republicans, and it has — in many instances — affected the relationship between the two parties: “Many reporters I knew personally could be pretentious, self-absorbed, self-righteous, blinded by ideology, biased toward controversy, and far too slow to admit when they were wrong. Like many Republicans, who had felt with some justification that the media was biased against them for decades, I cheered as hard as anyone when Trump took on the media establishment, which had become just as much a part of the swamp culture as the politicians it was covering.” The media has, in this case, failed the test of objectivity and allowed itself to be involved in the partisan political discourses. While the public was always skeptical about Trump and his approaches, one thing is clear: members of the public had noted some of the biases by the leading media houses in the country.

The media wars between Trump and the press soon spilled over to the White House team. A significant number of staffers were always willing to engage with the media, whenever the opportunity came along, which led to an increase in the number of leakages by the White House to the Press: “In the Trump White House, the fear of being a target—of both hungry reporters and, perhaps of greater concern, your colleagues—was the most powerful motivator to talk to journalists. The thought process went something like this: If I can maintain close relationships with reporters, I can at least avoid gratuitous hit pieces planted by my rivals.” The rivalry in this team was damaging in many ways, to the point when policy issues were leaked to the media even before they were effectively addressed, and conclusions obtained. In one case, quoting from “an anonymous White House source”, it emerged that “ground-level operations” for a “Russia War Room” would be run by “senior White House communications hands… Cliff Sims, the director of White House message strategy, and deputy policy strategist Andrew Surabian.” These kinds of leaks became increasingly common and they had an effect on the operations of the White House. It is important to note that in such cases, all the plans — if they existed — would be adversely affected by the leak. Thus, it was incumbent on the administration to reign in the White House staff members to get back on-track and avoid being part of the media wars.


Trump likes courting attention at all costs, and his frequent wars with the media, however negative some of them may turn out, helps to promote his publicity agenda. Through his many Twitter outbursts, Trump has — in many cases — succeeded in creating a combat scenario with the media, where some of these played a key role in enhancing his visibility. However, he did this at the expense of the unity of his backroom staff; as a result, the media managed to find a way of infiltrating the White House in the form of leaks to the media. Sims says that “Reporters were relentless in their source-development methods. They knew they couldn’t come in through the front door—our official email addresses or phone numbers—so they tried the back door, our personal cell phones. Or, they found their way into the house through cracks, like direct messages on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or, for the Millennial aides, Snapchat. And most of the time they were successful.” Trump is solely responsible for the chaotic management of the White House, especially with regards to the leakage of information to the media. The President has failed to show leadership, and is to blame for the problems facing the White House — and the solutions also rest squarely with him.

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