As the hours ticked by on Wednesday with no word from President Donald Trump about his “Fake News Awards,” experts in politics and the media began to wonder if the White House may now be realizing what seemed obvious to them: The awards are a very bad idea.
If Trump were to highlight all of the individual stories he’s taken issue with during his time in office, he’d just be drawing attention to negative news about himself, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
“He’s priming stories that are negative, that is, they don’t help him. He’s making them more available and he’s gathering them up in one place,” she said.
The other issue, she said, would be dedicating time to this sort of event when the government is on the verge of shutdown, a DACA deal is hanging by a thread, and the threat from North Korea looms—among other issues.
“The number of consequential things on the agenda right now that should be occupying the president’s attention is extraordinarily high, the government shutdown among them,” she said. “One might ask the question, ‘Aren’t there better uses of your time?’”
Comedians, like Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee have been having a field day with the awards, with Colbert even buying space on a billboard in Times Square to promote his candidacy for “The most dishonest & corrupt media awards of the year.”
Jamieson and others, including longtime Republican strategist Stuart Stevens, believe that the awards idea was simply the result of an impulsive Trump tweet, and not actually thought out.
“It’s generous to say there’s political calculation to it, or any calculation. I think a lot of it is, that looks good, I’ll eat it,” said Stevens, who oversaw Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and has been critical of Trump.
Stevens said the awards could help Trump with his supporters, since it “reinforces what his base wants to believe about news media.”
But Stevens added, “What I am more struck by is just the lack of respect for the Constitution. It is an attack on the First Amendment."
Trump first tweeted that the “Fake News Awards” would be held on Monday January 8 at 5 p.m.—a date which he later changed to Wednesday, January 17, because “The interest in, and importance of, these awards is far greater than anyone could have anticipated!”
And yet, as of early Wednesday evening, no awards had been doled out, and not a single journalist—from the “Failing New York Times” to “Fake News CNN”—has had the opportunity to get tired of all the winning.
Since the president’s original Twitter proclamation, the White House has been evasive on what form any potential awards ceremony might take, and when it might be.
When asked about the awards on Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “We'll keep you posted on any details around that potential event and what that would look like.”
When pressed again on Wednesday, Sanders said, “We'll keep you guys posted. It will be something later today.”
She added, “I know you're all waiting to see if you are big winners, I'm sure.”
The White House also has declined to answer questions about whether the awards would violate executive branch ethics rules, which prohibit government employees from using their office to help or hurt private enterprises.
Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia Center of Politics, said Trump had little to gain politically—his base already dislikes the press—and only risks turning off others who’ve grown tired of all his press-bashing, and the drama associated with his presidency.
“It was a stupid idea that only his base would love,” Sabato said, “but the cult loves anything he says or does, so why cause yourself additional problems?”
Sabato also said that, if Trump were to highlight too many TV reports in his awards, it would give the lie to the president’s much-contested claim that he does not watch much television.
“It reinforces what we know, that he watches cable TV for entirely too many hours a day,” Sabato said. “The president, who is supposed to be extremely busy, has so many hours to watch cable TV.”
Former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer said that he did think the awards could work politically, though execution would be difficult and need to be precise.
“It seems to me if this is done with 100 percent accuracy and a somewhat humorous touch, it can be quite effective. The press often points out everything the president says that is wrong. I can see a value in the president assembling the press’ worst mistakes and highlighting them,” Fleischer said in an email.
“The press, to their credit, often run corrections columns or they post their corrections. There is nothing wrong with the president putting those corrections together and talking about them,” he said.
But that would require that Trump limit himself to discussing strictly those types of stories, Fleischer said, where the press had clearly erred. They must be “Genuine mistakes” and “not 50-50 calls” or other types of stories that Trump has denied without real proof.
Trump’s definition of “fake news” has rarely been so restrictive, though, as he has habitually appended the label to stories he dislikes, regardless of whether or not they are factual.
The awards were to be have been given out on the same day that Senator John McCain wrote a column in The Washington Post decrying Trump’s war on the press while fellow Arizona Senator Jeff Flake compared Trump’s attacks on the media to those made by Joseph Stalin.
“No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence,” Flake said. “No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions. And Mr. President, an American president who cannot take criticism – who must constantly deflect and distort and distract – who must find someone else to blame -- is charting a very dangerous path. And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger.”