Media Love to Criticize Trump –When It Helps Disparage US Enemies

Daily Beast: Trump, Putin

Daily Beast “photo illustration” (3/14/16) of the supposed “bromance” between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Donald Trump released an ad on March 17 in which he did what almost every politician does as a matter of course: said something bad about Russian President Vladimir Putin, in this case by lumping him with ISIS. The pundit class was in shock, reporting that the “bromance” between the New York businessman and Putin was over.

Huffington Post: Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin Bromance Hits a Rough Patch

Washington Post: The Bromance between Trump and Putin Is Over

Mashable: Is the Bromance Kaput? The Kremlin Says Trump Ad ‘Demonizes’ Putin

But there never was a “bromance” or any “love” in the first place—just two politicians who have no particular reason to hate each other exchanging generic pleasantries. But in the United States, failing to categorically condemn our Official State Enemies is seen as “loving” them. It is incumbent upon all Serious People, especially all Serious Candidates, to run through the motions and publicly display their disapproval of those leaders not currently in the national security establishment’s good graces.

For months, many in the press have used Trump as a pretext to disparage America’s enemy states.


From BuzzFeed: 11 Super Cute Photos of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin as BFFs

BuzzFeed had a post (9/16/15) about pasting Trump and Putin’s faces onto stock photos. It took three staff writers to do this.

The United States is currently engaging in two proxy conflicts with Russia—in Syria and in Ukraine. As the tension between the two powers has grown, US media have broadly followed suit. Consistent Putin critic Buzzfeed (see the reliably anti-Putin reports on Syria by correspondents Miriam Elder and Borzou Daragahi) have consistently advanced the “Trump hearts Putin” narrative:

Putin Endorses Donald Trump for President

This Is The Real Reason Putin Loves Donald Trump

Who Said It: Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin

11 Super Cute Photos of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin as BFFs

Trump: I Have a ‘Good Feeling’ About Putin, We Can Be a ‘Positive Force Together’

McCain Goes Beastmode on Trump Over Putin

Trump’s Lawyer: ‘Better Than Likely Chance Trump May Even Meet With Putin’ During UN

Trump Doubles Down on Putin Love, Says There’s ‘a Lot of Truth’ to US Killing People

Other outlets also ran with this trope:

CNN: Donald Trump’s Bromance With Vladimir Putin

New York Times op-ed: Why Putin Loves Trump

Daily Beast: Russia Hearts Donald Trump

Mother Jones: Why Donald Trump Loves Vladimir Putin

The canard that “Putin endorsed Trump” was started by Buzzfeed and spread unquestioned by other media outlets, who were too giddy for the clickbait to notice it was totally bogus. A reading of Putin’s actual comments reveals no such endorsement:

He’s a really brilliant and talented person, without any doubt. It’s not our job to judge his qualities, that’s a job for American voters, but he’s the absolute leader in the presidential race.

Putin clearly states that judging Trump’s “qualities” is “a job for American voters,” and follows this with the descriptive—not normative—statement that Trump was the “leader in the presidential race.” This was explicitly not an endorsement, but calling it one fit the narrative, and spreading disinformation about American enemies never gets anyone reprimanded, so off the myth went, disseminated by dozens of other outlets without question.

The evidence for this “love” that wasn’t made up was circumstantial at best. Trump said some nice things about Putin and vice versa. But this is also true of Obama and Putin—and Bush and Putin. People in positions of power often say diplomatic things about other people in power. The point of this refrain, aside from the otherwise noble goal of mocking Trump, is to further the narrative that the United States’ No. 1 global military competitor, Russia, is run by a narcissistic demagogue hell-bent on global domination. This permits liberals the luxury of mocking Trump while still safely ingratiating themselves to the national security establishment.


CNN pundit Van Jones (3/15/16), searching for a motive (other than naked ambition?) for why Marco Rubio hadn’t yet left the GOP race, turned to pop psychology, suggesting that Rubio opposed Trump because he reminded him of “strongman” Fidel Castro. Calling the former Cuban president “violent, irresponsible,” Jones insisted that this made the Trump race personal for Rubio.

There’s only one problem with this analysis: Rubio’s family didn’t “flee” Castro; they left for the United States in 1956, three years before the revolution, while Castro was still in Mexico. Indeed, Politifact found that Rubio’s assertion that his parents left “following the Cuban revolution” was false when it investigated the matter in October 2011. Nonetheless, Jones wanted to criticize Trump and reached for a classic go-to bad guy to do so.


This “Trump = person I don’t like” line was also employed by reliable Latin American socialist critic Fusion, the joint partnership of Disney and Univision.

Fusion‘s Jorge Ramos’s confrontation with Donald Trump over anti-Latino comments in August last year (8/25/15) went viral, becoming a national discussion that stretched from the New York Times to Fox News. What wasn’t noted much at the time was that Ramos’s Fusion—in concert with other English-language media—turned around and used the moment to disparage Nicolas Maduro, the leftist president of Venezuela, by comparing him to Trump. By the afternoon of the day Ramos confronted Trump at a press conference , multiple stories emerged drawing a comparison between the billionaire right-winger and the left-wing former bus driver:

Fusion: Venezuelan President Faces Criticism He’s a ‘Caribbean Donald Trump’ After Ordering Mass Deportation

Reuters: Latin America’s Trump? Venezuelan Leader Rejects Comparison

Foreign Policy: Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro Does Not Appreciate Comparisons to Donald Trump

The nominal point of comparison, ginned up by Maduro’s right-wing opposition and a friendly American press, was immigration: Maduro had recently begun to ramp up deportations along the Colombian/Venezuelan border, for what the government said were safety reasons. The comparison was as glib as it was cynical, mainly because Venezuela’s immigration policies aren’t marketed by racism and a massive power asymmetry. That didn’t stop Maduro’s ideological adversaries, including some in the American press, from playing up the comparison.


Missing from these frequent Trump comparisons are any references to America’s allies. No “Trump Is King Salman of Saudi Arabia,” no “Trump Is Israeli PM Netanyahu,” no “Trump Is Really Like Sisi of Egypt.” Trump—as shorthand for nasty, terrible leader—is a weapon only wielded, by accident or design, against those who are on Washington’s bad side.

Clearly, there is much to criticize about Donald Trump, and there are negative things you can say about Castro, Putin, and Maduro. But these stories aren’t really about any of these politicians. They’re not about leveling substantive criticism at the Republican frontrunner, nor are they a good faith effort to critique the three governments in question. They’re a clickbait propaganda trope designed to mock Official US Enemies—safely in the confines of milquetoast American liberalism.

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst for Follow him on Twitter at @AdamJohnsonNYC.

This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission from FAIR.