How Trump tests news consumers, journalists
Good reporters and editors labor mightily to be fair-minded in their reporting of events. But the larger battle, captured by the phrase “winning the news cycle,” involves a fierce competition to push reports that help your own side to the top while sidelining those that serve the interests of your opponents.
In the Trump Era, this clash has fundamentally changed because the president and his lieutenants have realized that lying works; shameless dissembling is now standard operating procedure for the White House. Partisan outlets go with Trump’s versions of events, even when they are demonstrably false. Mainstream outlets feel duty-bound to report them, even as they debunk the lies.
Alexander Hamilton taught long ago that the despot’s “object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’ ” If the news gets troublesome, Trump creates all controversies and distractions that consume media space and time.
His latest discovery is how his pardon power can be a big news- cycle hit, especially when a celebrity is blended in. Trump announced on Wednesday he was commuting the life sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, convicted in 1996 on drug possession charges, after her cause was championed by Kim Kardashian.
This followed his using the refusal of so many mem- bers of the Super Bowl-winning Philadelphia Eagles to go to a White House victory ceremony as an excuse to launch yet another attack on kneeling NFL players. He also suggested that Eagles players disagreed with his insistence “that they proudly stand for the national anthem,” when in fact no one on the Philly squad ever knelt last season.
And the sheer volume of corruption reports means that they start to drown each other out.
Then there’s balance. So much of the journalism about Trump is negative because of what he does every day and because of what Robert Mueller’s investigation and hardworking reporters regularly turn up. But journalists feel obligated to show them being tough on Democrats. Looking “partisan” is a grave transgression.
Lord knows, Democrats have their problems. Their own politicians regularly point them out by way of scoring points in the party’s factional wars. But with this year’s primaries nearly over, let’s at least shelve certain storylines that are sim- ply wrong.
The Democratic primary electorate is not veering sharply to the left. Democrats cast pragmatic primary ballots in large numbers because they devoutly want to end their powerlessness.
This pragmatism is what allowed Democrats to avoid catastrophe in California on Tuesday.
Because of the state’s appropriately nicknamed “jungle primary,” the top two finishers in the first round compete in November, even if they are in the same party. Although a couple of races were close, it appears there will be Democratic candidates on the ballot this fall in every target district.
So let’s agree on two things.
First, Democrats will make enough mistakes between now and Election Day to give journalists opportunity to look balanced. There’s no need to keep flogging flawed talking points. And there’s nothing imbalanced about Trump’s sins dominating the news. It’s not themedia’s fault that there are so many of them.
Second, Trump tests both journalists and news consumers in a way they’ve never been tested before. Like would-be autocrats elsewhere, Trump is pursuing a strategy of disorienting the citizenry with a steady stream of provocations, untruths and diversions. We cannot afford to treat any of this as the usual spin or garden variety politics.
Trump has found his pardon power can be a big news-cycle hit, especially when a celebrity like Kim Kardashian is blended in.