In a shocking development, the media loved a speech teased to the media, written for the media, and delivered in its entirety for the media.
The media was giddy for days after Jeff Flake leaked his plans to give "another fiery anti-Trump speech" that compared Donald Trump to Josef Stalin. They continued to be gripped by the upcoming speech after Flake had to walk back those comments that compared the duly elected president of the United States (where there is still a First Amendment) to the murderous Soviet dictator.
And finally, the moment arrived. Wednesday morning, Flake bravely took the floor, to say Trump is bad because he tweets and calls liberal mainstream news outlets "fake news."
"I sincerely thank my colleagues for their indulgence today," Flake concluded, even though his colleagues weren't there. Perhaps the reference was to his future colleagues, who naturally loved a speech that equated the press with absolute truth.
"Jeff Flake's 20 most damning lines about Donald Trump's assault on the press," wrote CNN's Chris Cillizza.
"Jeff Flake Urges GOP To Stand Up To Trump’s Attacks Against The Press," wrote the Huffington Post.
"Sen. Jeff Flake says press undergoing ‘sustained attack' by Trump," wrote CBS.
"Republican Sen. Jeff Flake Compares ‘Reprehensible' Trump to Stalin, Assad on Senate Floor," wrote Slate.
Flake got the headlines he wanted, and more. CNN provided live updates of the speech, which, to any casual observer, was a snore.
But the media are not in touch with the casual observer or the normal American who most likely is not watching MSNBC at 11 a.m.
"You have heard Senator Jeff Flake over these last roughly 10-15 minutes deliver a blistering attack against President Trump, and a fiery defense of the free press and the First Amendment," MSNBC's Hallie Jackson broke in. "Flake is of course no stranger to criticizing the president. He's one of Donald Trump's most outspoken critics. The retiring senator from Arizona is taking the opportunity now to speak out, take aim, at Donald Trump's attack on the media."
Jackson praised Flake's groveling toward the mainstream press when he said journalists die to bring the truth.
"And this is not to get on our high horses and talk about how great journalism is," Jackson assured us. "And I don't want people to get that impression, that's not what this is about." Who would ever get that impression?
But of course that is what it's about. Flake's speech was not really about Trump. It was about the media's favorite subject: the unimpeachable media.
Trump hasn't attacked reporters in war zones, and an attack on one journalist is not an attack on all journalists. He's attacked negative biased coverage and patently false stories that the media have run with. The media can't get beyond their own bias against Trump, which is why they run stories that fit their preconceived notions without checking basic facts.
What were Flake's examples of Trump's "assault on truth"? They must be good, if Flake says 2017 was the year when truth was "more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country."
Well, inauguration crowd sizes, of course. And oh, questioning Barack Obama's birth certificate (that wasn't in 2017), and alleging massive voter fraud, and rigged elections. Trump didn't question the legitimacy of an election in 2017 either, but others did.
But the worst offense is that Trump has called the Russia investigation a "hoax."
Is Trump not allowed to have an opinion on the, shall we say, "matter," with which there have been numerous questions raised about the biases of both the Obama Justice Department and the investigators on Mueller's team?
We can debate all day as to whether Trump should tweet some of the things he does, or keep some opinions to himself. But I really can't blame him when we revisit where the term "fake news" came from in the first place.
It was the media that popularized the term in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton's loss. After being so wrong, everyone was looking for someone or something to blame. The first excuse was "fake news."
"Facebook's failure: Did fake news and polarized politics get Trump elected?" was the question just two days after the election. The drumbeat continued, and it became Hillary's favorite excuse for her loss, until she, well, moved on to other things.
But it didn't last. Trump is better at branding and turned the phrase on its head from an attack against his victory into an attack against an unpopular and biased media.
The mainstream press isn't as virtuous as Flake thinks. It's always narrative over facts, whether it is hammering [insert Republican here] or praising [insert Democrat there].
But Flake likes narratives, too. While the narrative may be brave Republican speaks truth to power against Republican president, the reality is Flake saw the polls and got out.