Did the Media Create Their Fame Monster?
When It Comes to Ratings and Clicks, Entertainment Trumps News Every Time
Just when you thought the 2016 presidential campaign couldn’t get any more outlandish, here comes word that the Trump campaign has revoked the press credentials of the Washington Post, the newspaper that broke Watergate.
The act of barring journalists from campaign events is almost unheard of in modern presidential politics. Yet, the Post seems to have joined other news organizations in the Trump doghouse, including Politico, BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post.
“Playing the Refs”
To recount, the Post reported on comments made by Trump in an interview with Fox News, in which Trump said that President Obama’s response to the Orlando massacre meant “he doesn’t get it or he gets it better than anyone understands.”
That is, Trump implied that our president was sympathetic to, or “in cahoots” with, the Orlando gunman. Who else can we rely on to objectively examine blatantly toxic innuendo from a major party presidential candidate? Who else but the media?
I assume Trump knows this all too well. His strategy is straight out of my boyhood schoolyard: “Playing the refs.”
The Huffington Post adds this endnote to all of its articles about the presumptive Republican candidate for president. It is a refreshing departure from the “herd mentality” of much of the mainstream media.
$2 Billion of Free Media Coverage
At some moment during the Republican primary season, the traditional protocol governing the media and political campaigns was thrown out the window. Instead of assessing Trump’s qualifications to be president of the US, the media were, according to Ed Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Berkeley,
…adopting him as an asset and as a crowd-pleaser and as a magnet for audience hits. It confers stature on him and wins him supporters with the coverage he is getting, [giving him] credibility and seriousness about him as a candidate when there is nothing in his record that satisfies that.
This is going to go down as one of the historic [press] failures, on par with the run-up to the Iraq war.
This carnival atmosphere, along with his unprecedented access to media producers, reporters and control rooms, has given Trump an estimated $2 billion worth of free media time, according to a study by the New York Times. And that’s only to March of this year.
“Bring It On, Donald. Keep Going.”
In February, at the height of primary season, CBS chairman Les Moonves made a very unfortunate comment picked up by The Hollywood Reporter:
It may not be good for America, but it’s very good for CBS. I’ve never seen anything like this, and its going to be a very good year for us. Sorry, it’s a terrible thing to say. But bring it on, Donald. Keep going.
The media’s fixation on Donald Trump has apparently outlasted the primary season. Last Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) held a press conference to unveil the Republicans’ “A Better Way” agenda…purported to be four positive conservative policy proposals, but subliminally, an antidote to the harsh negativity spouting out of their presumptive nominee.
After Ryan revealed the first plank of the proposals–an anti-poverty plan–he asked for questions from the media. According to The Atlantic, “the only thing reporters wanted to talk about was Donald Trump’s latest outrage, regarding the Mexican heritage of Judge Gonzalo Curiel,” who is presiding over the Trump U. fiasco. “The first six questions were about Trump,” a Ryan spokesperson recalled.
Speaker Ryan was wise enough to limit media inquiry when unveiling planks two through four. But, according to The Atlantic, Ryan’s dilemma is quite clear:
Ryan and his conference aren’t really competing for attention with Democrats. They are struggling to claim even the tiniest bit of oxygen from a Republican nominee often at direct odds with their ideas. (Not that Trump is running on policy and ideology so much as charisma and spleen.)
Trump & His Veterans
In my view, the most flagrant example of line-crossing by the media was Donald Trump’s bizarre championing of veterans and veterans’ groups. (Disclosure: I am a veteran.) There were several overlapping occurrences: Did Trump give $1.2 million to a veterans’ group or did he not? What did he mean by those promises to “rebuild our military” and “take care of our veterans?”
Trump’s splashy appearance at the Rolling Thunder biker rally at the Lincoln Memorial gave his campaign priceless optics of Trump and hardened vets mugging for the camera. His appalling comments about POW John McCain: apparently all forgiven.
Four Student Deferments
Curiously, the media barely touched upon an incongruity of sorts concerning a man actively courting veterans: Donald Trump strenuously avoided military service at the height of the Vietnam War. He graduated college in 1968 and was a “star athlete,” according to his own press materials. Yet Trump got out of service because of “bone spurs in both his heels.”
I have no quarrel with a man not wanting to go to Vietnam. But the media’s kid gloves approach does seem a bit partisan. Media Matters for America:
What’s remarkable about the media’s willingness to overlook the issue is that the three Democratic nominees who were also college-aged men during the Vietnam War era were often hounded by media questions during the campaign season by either their lack of military experience (Bill Clinton), or they were forced to explain and defend their service overseas (Al Gore and John Kerry).
Donald Trump avoiding military service? No big deal. Let the party continue.