Will Trump's war on the media actually work? Here's what this crisis-management expert thinks

Donald Trump has declared war on the media, the latest salvoes being his denying major media outlets access to the White House "gaggle," or informal briefing, and pulling out of the White House Correspondents Dinner.

The question on the minds of both politicos and crisis managers about this adversarial strategy: Will it work?

Answering that question must be a non-partisan exercise and three and a half decades in the scandal racket has taught me that damage control strategies rarely either succeed or fail completely. They can succeed until they fail like Nixon's Watergate cover-up, which bought him a few more years than he would have had otherwise. Or they can fail until they succeed, which is what happened with the Clinton White House's strategy during the Lewinsky scandal.

While as a citizen, I am anxious about Trump's war on journalists, as a professional I think Trump is onto something. The strategy is called inoculation and the logic is simple: If you disparage the media, any narrative that flows from the press will be "fruit of the poisonous tree," or, in the lingo of the day, "fake news."

"[Trump]  doesn't just keep rising from the ashes, the ashes keep rising from him and end up covering the media in soot."

Trump is preparing his supporters for the avalanche of ongoing investigations about his Russian ties and potential business conflicts. Will these yield an impeachable offense? Who knows, but we can be certain there will be negative optics and atmospherics — black puffs of smoke that may or may not signal anything meaningful, but will certainly make the administration squirm.

Not only will Trump's supporters dismiss such reports from the "old" media, they will process them as attacks on them causing them to deepen their advocacy. Furthermore, every negative data point that emerges about the president will cause his critics to rejoice and escalate their attacks, which will, in turn, magnify the commitment of Trump's supporters.

While Trump may be wrong that journalists are the "enemy of the people," he is correct that legacy media organizations are often adverse to Republicans and conservatives. This is why boycotts from the right almost never work as well as boycotts from the left. I have seen time and again throughout my career media organizations dismiss consumer boycotts from conservatives as "mean spirited," but insurrections from, say, environmentalists and LGBT rights activists as fair game.

Trump has already succeeded in convincing vast swaths of the electorate that the media are a special interest — not a sanctified public trust. He doesn't just keep rising from the ashes, the ashes keep rising from him and end up covering the media in soot.

There are limits, of course, to his strategy. There are pathways to Trump's toppling besides the media, primarily prosecutors with subpoenas, witnesses under oath with damning testimony and Members of Congress who come to view Trump as a liability.

These scenarios have not come to pass, of course, but the climate is volatile and a president who picks fights with the media, law enforcement and the intelligence community can expect future visits.

Commentary by Eric Dezenhall, CEO of Dezenhall Resources, a crisis-management firm in Washington, DC. He is also the author of "Glass Jaw: A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal." Follow him on Twitter @EricDezenhall.

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Watch: Trump explains feelings toward media