Such ingratitude! Watching The Great Populist inveigh against the enemy of the people, it’s too easy to forget that Trump actually owes his spectacular political success to the very media he now excoriates. A loutish demagogue with no experience in politics and minimal knowledge of American government and public policy, Trump should never have been treated as a credible candidate for the presidency. But the flamboyant reality TV star was novel and unconventional and outrageous, which made him endlessly entertaining. And our ratings-obsessed news media are in the business of entertainment hardly less than they are the business of the news. So, the media just couldn’t let go of Trump. By one calculation, as of early April 2016 Trump had gotten $1.9 billion worth of free media time, compared to $746 million for Hillary Clinton and $321 million for Bernie Sanders. During the month of March, the three broadcast networks’ nightly news programs devoted 143 minutes to the Trump campaign, compared to 26 minutes for Clinton and Sanders combined.
The starkest admission of media (ir)responsibility viz. Trump came from CBS chairman Lee Moonves, who conceded that Trump’s domination of the Republican nominating race “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS….
The money’s rolling in and this is fun. I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.
Media coverage became gradually more critical of Trump as the campaign progressed and as the still apparently remote possibility of his becoming president became more real. But increased media scrutiny of Trump was “balanced” by a melodramatic inflation of the Clinton e-mail pseudo-scandal. (The genuine scandal of Trump University got nowhere nearly as much attention as Clinton’s e-mails.)
I can’t help suspecting that the November surprise prompted some amount of soul-searching in our news organizations as to their responsibility for the catastrophe. As a result, the media by and large have reported fairly accurately on the incompetence and mendacity of the new regime. The NY Times and CNN seem to be taking the lead: they don’t just report Trump’s lies, they routinely observe that Trump’s false assertions are in fact false.
It is of course amusing to see our Liar in Chief accuse the media of lying—a quintessential act of projection. Trump’s obsessive fury with the media is undoubtedly a reflection of his personality disorders, but it isn’t just that. Steve Bannon has called the media the opposition, and well they should be: an administration that is determined to invent its own facts will inevitably clash with news organizations that, for all their shortcomings, do retain a commitment to reporting that is consistent with objective reality. So, the administration must do what it can to discredit the carriers of the real news. But I think Trump’s war on the media will ultimately be self-defeating, because his disdain for a free press, together with his broader authoritarian proclivities, is likely to solidify the media’s determination not to be intimidated. Anyway, let’s hope so.
Quote of the Day:
“Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”—Donald Trump, on trying to find a replacement for Obamacre
Actually, everybody who knew anything knew that health care was so complicated.