First it was Donald Trump against the CIA.
Then it was Trump speaking sympathetically about Julian Assange.
And now, in his classic counterpunching style, Trump is striking back against the media.
Sometimes it seems to always come down to Trump taking on the press.
Either the president-elect is dissatisfied with the coverage of this controversy or finds news outlets a useful foil in the debate. Or both.
The looming question, of course, is whether Russian hackers attempted to influence the election by obtaining emails from the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. There’s no credible case that this gave Trump the victory, but he believes the Democrats are using the alleged Russian involvement to try to delegitimize his presidency.
Trump has been openly skeptical of the Obama administration’s intelligence agencies and their finding, repeated at a John McCain hearing yesterday, that the Russian government was behind the hacking. The billionaire has, among other things, brought up the CIA’s slam-dunk failure on Saddam Hussein’s weapons more than a decade ago.
The reporting on all this has been relatively straightforward, although many media outlets have described the intelligence findings as virtual fact. But a whole lot of pundits have expressed shock and amazement that Trump would appear to side with Vladimir Putin, who denies any involvement in the hacking, against the intelligence agencies that the new president will soon be overseeing.
Trump’s first salvo blamed the Democrats—and the press.
“Somebody hacked the DNC but why did they not have ‘hacking defense’ like the RNC has and why have they not responded to the terrible things they did and said (like giving the questions to the debate to H). A total double standard! Media, as usual, gave them a pass,” he tweeted.
Then, after Fox’s Sean Hannity interviewed Assange in London, Trump was all too happy to quote the WikiLeaks founder about the emails stolen from Clinton aide John Podesta: “Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’ - why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!”
Trump also quoted Assange as calling U.S. media coverage “very dishonest,” adding his own commentary: “More dishonest than anyone knows.”
This prompted a whole new wave of criticism and mockery for Trump appearing to cozy up to a man on the run from sexual assault allegations who has specialized in disclosing U.S. national security secrets. The New York Times, for instance, said: “Though the celebrity businessman and the champion of leakers are both showmen sometimes derided by critics as narcissists, they might seem to have little else in common. In this instance, however, their interests may coincide.”
In the blink of a news cycle, Trump blamed the press, tweeting:
“The dishonest media likes saying that I am in Agreement with Julian Assange - wrong. I simply state what he states; it is for the people to make up their own minds as to the truth. The media lies to make it look like I am against ‘Intelligence’ when in fact I am a big fan!”
Here’s what is fair to point out. In a 2010 exchange with Fox’s Brian Kilmeade about a WikiLeaks dump, Trump called it “disgraceful” and said “there should be like death penalty or something for that one.”
Hannity acknowledged to Assange in their interview that back in 2010 “ I was concerned you were waging war against the U.S.” and said that releasing classified documents “could put American lives at risk.”
But now that Assange’s leaks have been wounding the Democrats, Hannity said: “I've come to believe that you've done two things that are extraordinarily helpful to the United States and I think journalism in a way. One is you showed us that we do not have cyber security. You acknowledge that. And two, I think in this election in particular, you exposed a level of corruption that I for 30 years on the radio as a conservative knew existed, and I was shocked at the level of corruption, duplicity, dishonesty, manipulation.”
In similar fashion, Sarah Palin praised Assange on her Facebook page. She apologized to him for likening him to a terrorist six years ago when WikiLeaks published her “infamous (and proven noncontroversial, relatively boring) emails.”
So Assange has become something of a conservative icon now that his target has shifted and he is denying getting the stuff from the Russians (though he can’t be sure of where his source obtained the hacked emails).
Trump ran hard against what he calls the “corrupt” media during the campaign. Now he’s doing it during the transition. What remains to be seen is whether media-bashing will remain a key weapon when he’s working in the White House.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.