As a member of the media, I attend all the "How to Stick It to Trump" summits. I go gleefully, but that's irrelevant. Attendance is mandatory. This is where the biggest names in news — the Bezoses and the Murdochs and the Blitzers and the Kellys — plan the media's take-down-the-Donald strategy and we see small fries vie for the choicest small-fry assignments.
As a newspaper columnist with a readership approaching the three-figure mark, I never get the front-page hit pieces. I never get to ask Trump whether women should be thrown in prison for doing Kegel exercises. I never get to ask him if Vladimir Putin is a good kisser. My handlers won't even let me ask Ivanka who she's wearing and whether the designer enslaves or simply employs impoverished infants. (Note to self: Find out what perfume Roger Ailes likes.)
Nope, I stay right here in my wheelhouse — grammar — seizing on the tiniest shred of linguistic evidence that Trump is not the wonderful leader-in-waiting we media monsters all secretly know him to be. And this month, he practically handed me my assignment himself.
As you may have heard, Trump somehow managed to get enough media attention to leak the news that conniving reporters are the sole reason he's not beating Hillary Clinton by 20% in the polls. This ticked off the lead conspirators in our cabal, who'd been hoping to keep this fact a secret. But Trump, in a rare departure from his famously stoic style, didn't stop there.
"The media protects Hillary!" was one recent Trump tweet reported on Politico. "The dishonest media refuses to expose!" was another.
That fast, my mission was clear: Go after his grammar. You see, "media" is from Latin. It's plural for "medium." So you have one medium, say, anti-Trump newspapers. But you have two media, like anti-Trump newspapers and anti-Trump TV shows.
Yet Trump used "media" as a singular. How so, you ask? Look at his verbs.
In "the media protects," the verb is conjugated for a singular subject. Compare "John protects" with "John and Mary protect." In the first, the subject is singular and the verb ends with an S. In the second, we have a plural subject — two or more people or things. The verb reflects that by omitting the S: "John and Mary protect."
We know Trump's usage was no slip of the keyboard because he did it twice. In "the dishonest media refuses to expose," the verb is again conjugated as though the noun were singular.
Gotcha, Donald. I can even cite expert sources to back up my Trump attack. Eric Partridge's "Usage and Abusage" and Theodore Bernstein's "The Careful Writer" insist that "media" should never be treated as a singular.
That's got to hurt. Surely, my expose on Trump's grammar will take him down a peg in the eyes of the bookish types who form the bulk of his supporters. Mission accomplished.
Of course, if this weren't a take-down-the-Donald assignment, I would point out that "media" isn't exclusively plural. I'd use an example like "Social media are impacting people's lives" to show how silly it sometimes sounds as a plural.
I'd confess that the Partridge and Bernstein books are both comically out of date. I'd cite sources like Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, which notes that "media" is sometimes a collective noun, adding "a collective noun can take either a singular or plural verb."
I would add that words adopted from other languages — especially dead languages — quickly fall in line with English language rules. That's why we talk about spaghetti and linguine as "pastas" and not, as Italians would form the plural, "paste."
In other words, Trump didn't actually err.
But you'll never hear that from this faithful foot soldier of the shamelessly "disgusting media." And if I've served my fellow conspirators well, the wall between Trump and the White House just got 10 feet higher.