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Oppenheim: Enemy Of My Enemy

It’s an ancient proverb that comes from the 4th century A.D. – “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

In modern times, the proverb has been used to define complex alliances, like how the western allies and the Soviet Union teamed up to defeat the Nazis during World War II. But there’s nothing outdated about this idea. And it could aptly be used to describe the connection between many modern conservative news outlets – and President Trump.

Some context: since the 90’s, there’s been a steady increase in partisan news reporting, especially in broadcasting – and often, it’s suggested that the tilt goes both ways – right and left, conservative and liberal. But my own sense is that right leaning media has been much more prevalent and forceful.

In the general media landscape, there’s Fox News, of course, and websites like Breitbart. But now, the largest owner of local television outlets, Sinclair, is force-feeding its stations with conservative commentaries and right-leaning content.

Then there’s the National Enquirer, reported to be protecting the President by killing stories about his sex life. And there’s talk radio, a right-wing powerhouse –long dominated by voices such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

For the Trump administration, conservative media is a firewall. These are sites and stations that speak directly to his base, and support his agenda.

Except that sometimes they don’t.

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter has been beating up on President Trump for not delivering a wall on the Mexican border. And Fox’s Laura Ingraham doesn’t support the President’s decision to launch airstrikes in Syria. So conservative media is not in lock-step.

But author and former Reagan administration advisor Bruce Bartlett argues that conservative media outlets aren’t so much pro-Trump – as they are anti-anti-Trump. In other words, they’re reactionary, opposing anything liberals are for.

And their list of villains is steady and solid, including old ones like Obama and Hillary - and new ones like Robert Mueller, the Justice Department, the FBI, and anything that fits a “witch hunt” narrative.

But conservative media don’t just play to ideas. They play to viewers, readers, voters – an audience they want to keep long after Trump is gone.

That gets us back to the proverb. Despite cracks in the firewall, President Trump can probably rely on conservative media for support. Assuming of course, he continues to have the right enemies.

Keith Oppenheim, Associate Professor in Broadcast Media Production at Champlain College, has been with the college since 2014. Prior to that, he coordinated the broadcasting program at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan (near Grand Rapids). Keith was a correspondent for CNN for 11 years and worked as a television news reporter in Providence, Scranton, Sacramento and Detroit. He produces documentaries, and his latest project, Noyana - Singing at the end of life, tells the story of a Vermont choir that sings to hospice patients.
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