Politically speaking, nobody ever went broke beating up the media.
Add this truism to the long, long list of techniques and tactics that Donald Trump instinctively understands at a deep guttural level that nobody in media or politics seems to grasp. Even now, a year into Mr. Trump’s Presidential Spectacular.
“You’re a sleaze,” Mr. Trump spat caustically while jabbing his finger toward a reporter from ABC News.
“A sleaze,” he repeated, “because you know the facts and you know the facts well.”
Mr. Trump had ordered the media to his glittering Manhattan castle — Trump Tower — and, dutifully, they all showed up, right on time. And they sat right where they were told to sit.
Supposedly, Mr. Trump had gathered them all together so he could answer charges that he had lied when he claimed to have raised $6 million for military veterans. Reporters have hounded Mr. Trump for months after they were not able to verify how much money Mr. Trump raised and to which veterans groups the money was donated.
Instead, with the media acting in perfect accordance with Mr. Trump’s wishes, the press confrontation turned into a 40-minute Trump campaign commercial about how many millions of dollars Donald Trump has raised and given to the veterans, how much veterans love Donald Trump and how much Donald Trump hates the media. Oh, and it was all carried live on every channel.
It was, once again, sheer media marketing genius. It was building a wall and making Mexico pay for it. It was winning the debate you did not even attend. It was the hostile takeover of the Republican Party — and making the media and your opponents pay for just about every dime of it.
It was vintage Donald Trump.
“I think the political press is among the most dishonest people that I have ever met,” Mr. Trump said at one point, as viewers across the country leapt to their feet and cheered.
“I’ve watched you on television,” Mr. Trump taunted another reporter. “You’re a real beauty.”
Even some reporters in the crowd struggled to stifle their laughter at that zinger.
With grateful veterans posted behind him, Mr. Trump said he raised $5.6 million and quietly distributed the proceeds to a couple dozen outfits in the form of checks ranging in size from $50,000 to $1.1 million.
As he began to read the list of donations, he paused and contemptuously asked the gathered journalists: “Are you ready? Do you have your pen?”
After reading the long list, Mr. Trump explained that he had wanted to make the charitable donations discreetly to veterans and vet organizations that had been thoroughly vetted.
“And I’m happy to do it,” he said. “I didn’t want the credit for it, but it was very unfair that the press treated us so badly.”
By this point, reporters were stammering and sputtering in disbelief.
“When you are talking about not wanting to get credit for this, you did host a very public fundraiser that was televised,” a reporter demanded.
“How else am I going to raise the money?” Mr. Trump asked simply.
Finally, one reporter had had enough.
“You keep calling us the dishonest press, the disgusting press,” he started to whine, before Mr. Trump cut him off with a classic, media-maddening Trumpism.
“Well, generally speaking, that is 100 percent true,” Mr. Trump said.
After eviscerating the ABC reporter as “a sleaze,” he tried interjecting to inquire why Mr. Trump thought he was so sleazy.
Mr. Trump quickly grew tired of the exchange and handed the microphone over to one of the veterans standing on stage with him, who stepped forward and talked for a few minutes about how grateful he and the other veterans were to Mr. Trump for raising over $5 million for veterans.
Just another win for Donald Trump.
• Charles Hurt can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter via @charleshurt.