If Donald Trump’s criticism of the press this week sounds familiar, it should — perhaps especially to regular Fox News viewers. That’s because many of the comments seem to echo the channel’s top-rated host, Bill O’Reilly.
O’Reilly and Trump have a long relationship, one that prompted the Fox personality to rib the presumptive Republican presidential nominee on his program about buying him milkshakes at baseball games. But based on Trump’s harsh critique of reporters, he appears to have been drinking in more than just that.
The colorful language the two use is often similar. During a Tuesday press conference, Trump referred to the press as “unbelievably dishonest,” and singled out one reporter as a “sleaze.” He has called the media “scum.”
Defending his record last year, after reports claimed he had embellished his war reporting in the Falkland Islands, O’Reilly said the coverage provides “more proof the American media is corrupt,” and called his critics “dishonest” and “smear merchants.”
That last term has been a favorite of O’Reilly’s, one frequently applied to those perceived as having maligned him. “Guttersnipe” and “Fox hater” are other frequent labels, not unlike the way Trump likes to tweet about “losers and haters.”
Both men have also belittled journalists by painting their outlets as failures. Trump, for example, said that the New York Times and Bill Kristol’s Weekly Standard are “failing.” O’Reilly dubbed Mother Jones “the bottom rung of journalism in America,” with “low circulation.” He has jabbed MSNBC for its “catastrophic” ratings.
On his program Wednesday, O’Reilly drew a direct connection between Trump’s relationship with the media and his own. “I personally can feel Trump’s pain, because the national press does the same thing to me,” he said during his “Talking Points” opening, adding that he has been “attacked over and over … on a variety of bogus charges.”
O’Reilly cited a distinction between himself and the candidate. Trump, he said, must accept scrutiny as a presidential candidate, and can become “testy when legitimate reports surface that he doesn’t like.” Fox News representatives didn’t respond to interview requests.
For O’Reilly, the shoot-the-messenger tactic has been largely successful in fending off criticism. Then again, even with several million viewers nightly, he is playing to a narrower constituency than Trump will ultimately need to reach.
As many journalists noted in the wake of Trump’s press conference, there is method behind his attacks. Calling the press dishonest seeks to preempt and discredit negative stories about his campaign as being ideologically motivated.
The approach also plays well with the conservative base. Radio host Rush Limbaugh applauded Trump’s combative exchange as “the kind of press conference Republicans voters have been dying to see for who knows how many years.”
Many reporters seemed taken aback by the confrontational nature of Trump’s remarks. And what has worked for even a well-known media figure such as O’Reilly might not translate well into a national political campaign.
Still, in many respects Trump’s latest volleys at the press aren’t really new. They are, rather, akin to serving old wine — or in the eyes of those who contend Trump is being too thin skinned, whine — in a new bottle.