The press has hurled just about every possible charge at Donald Trump. Now there’s a new accusation: cyberbully.
It’s true that Trump picks more public fights than just about anyone who’s ever ascended to the highest office in the land. It’s also true that when punched, he punches back harder.
So it was that the New York Times published a story with this headline: “Trump as Cyberbully-in-Chief? Twitter Attack on Union Boss Draws Fire.”
Now maybe it wasn’t the greatest idea for Trump to unsheathe his Twitter account against Chuck Jones, president of a steelworkers union in Indiana. Such digital assaults tend to generate plenty of online abuse and death threats aimed at the target, as they did in this case.
Therefore, the Times intoned, “Mr. Trump’s decision to single out Mr. Jones for ridicule has drawn condemnation from historians and White House veterans.”
But let’s be clear on the timeline here.
After Trump made the deal with Carrier to use tax breaks to save what he said were 1,100 jobs slated for Mexico, Jones charged that his numbers were overstated by several hundred.
What’s more, he told the Washington Post, Trump “lied his ass off.”
Jones, who voted for Hillary Clinton, said Trump and Mike Pence “pulled a dog and pony show on the numbers…I almost threw up in my mouth.”
Then Jones went on Erin Burnett’s CNN show and said some workers were being betrayed: “So, those folks probably had to think, okay, I'm keeping my job. Only to find out last Friday, well, no, there are 550 being laid off. Now, that never was mentioned by anybody. Trump, Pence or any of them never mentioned about 550 moving to Mexico.”
Minutes later, Trump tweeted this:
“Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!”
Whether that was a good idea or not, he hardly struck the first blow.
Jones now says he takes Trump’s comments with a grain of salt and stresses that he’s just an ordinary working guy.
The transition has produced a whole lot of journalistic tut-tutting about Trump going on offense: Against Boeing and its Air Force One contract. Against another Indiana company threatening to ship jobs to Mexico. Against the media, of course. Even against Alec Baldwin.
I get critics saying that he’s punching down. But every president brings his own style. Trump makes everything personal. He’s been doing that since his feud with Rosie O’Donnell.
Another president-elect might have ordered a review of the Boeing plane deal. Trump says “Cancel the order!” Whether the contract is eventually axed or just negotiated downward isn’t the point. By then he’ll be on to other controversies.
Wall Street Journal columnist Dan Henninger says he’s a performance artist. Kinda like Lady Gaga.
“Anti-Trumpers will say: Precisely. We can't have a performance artist as president of the United States. That's irrelevant now.
“In four years it may be possible to say that making a performance artist president was a mistake. But that will only be true if he fails. If the Trump method succeeds, even reasonably so, it will be important to understand his art from the start. So far, the media and the comedians are stuck in pre-Trump consciousness.”
I worry, in this age of online abuse, about the impact of Trump singling out people, especially if they’re not major public figures. His wife Melania has expressed concern about online bullying.
The Post has a story about an 18-year-old college student who asked Trump a skeptical question at a town hall a year ago, saying she didn’t think he was a “friend to women.” He tweeted that she was an “arrogant young woman” and a “plant” by Jeb Bush, and she now says she was flooded with threats, many of a sexual nature.
That was in the heat of a campaign. Trump is president-elect now, and his every syllable has even more impact.
I don’t have a problem with Trump taking on a big corporation or responding to sharp criticism from a union leader. I do think he ought to measure his words carefully, given the size of his megaphone.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.