“The greatest media challenge of the long presidential campaign has been how exactly to talk about Donald Trump. Charlatan or candidate? He Is preposterous, and yet people were watching him in numbers never before experienced in the cable news world, and he led the pack of Republicans from the first debate onward. If this wasn’t legitimacy, or at least a kind of legitimacy, what was?
Television, in its enthusiasm for ratings and a new political story, focused more on the Trump excitement than his bona fides. Even if he was criticized, or held to account on various issues, the sheer amount of his coverage, and the sense of awe and exuberance in it, seemed to neutralize the doubts, or make them less important. Print spent most of its energy covering the television coverage of Trump — he was pure phenomenon. And social media belonged to Trump — his voice ruled.
If there was a media bias, it was that eventually he would lose, although, from the media view, hopefully not too soon. Hence, the issues of who he really was — his mendacity, corruption, vulgarity and lack of knowledge, to name just the tip of his unsuitability for the presidency — did not have to be addressed because he was ever on his way to a crash and burn appointment.
Now, suddenly, with appropriate panic, the media has to walk back the dog.
Even the hope that, come the general election, he would “pivot” to some more subdued and sensible version of himself was jaw-droppingly dashed at the Republican convention. He’s more extreme, more unpredictable, more authoritarian, more Trump than anyone ever seemed to imagine he could be. Of the 20,000 media people at the convention in Cleveland, judging by the ad hoc focus groups that formed throughout the week, all of us were shaken. None of us had ever seen a convention like this, or a candidate — now on the precipice of actually winning the presidency.
But how to express our incredulity?
On television, the back-channel talk into the earpieces of guests, anchors, reporters and contributors was all about the weirdness of the event, the absurdity and even horror of it. But the coverage itself, the horse-race commentary, and the panels of political experts, and the interviews with “insiders,” and the reports from the floor echoed all conventions past. The world was ending and television was covering it with its usual mixture of buoyancy, repetition, dispassion and sense of grand quadrennial spectacle.
Television formats themselves gave Trump the advantage of business as usual.
Print, though, after a year of running behind the story, with puzzlement being its main point of view, seemed overnight to come to attention and find its voice.
The New York Times’ coverage of the Trump acceptance speech was a deconstruction of Trump’s factual transgressions, doubletalk insinuations, twilight-in-America narrative and lowest-appeal dog whistles. This was, for the Times, quite as skeptical a treatment of a national political figure as perhaps since its coverage of Nixon at the height of Watergate.
The Washington Post took this moment at the beginning of the general election campaign — rather than the traditional end — to formally, and with prejudice, you might say, disendorse Trump and his campaign as an historic threat to the nation.
Nicholas Kristof in the Times, after a year of ineffective press complaints about Trump’s race baiting, got down to work and traced a clear line of old-fashioned bigotry through Trump’s very public history. His sins were not just rhetorical, but personal — systematically violating equal protection laws. (Say this for Trump, he hides in plain sight.)
Tony Schwartz, the journalist who actually wrote The Art of the Deal, the book that in many ways created the Trump myth, and who has been largely silent about the experience, suddenly spoke up in a long interview in The New Yorker, telling an extraordinary tale of spin, fabrications, reality distortions and sociopath-like behavior.
In a mind-boggling exhumation, Franklin Foer, in Slate — with a follow-up by political blogger Josh Marshall — unearthed Trump’s deep connection to Russian interests and reliance on Russian money, the background to Trump’s heretofore seemingly inexplicable praise and appreciation of Vladimir Putin. Bad enough if it were just one strongman to another, but it is in fact, in Foer’s analysis, debtor to lender. It’s the Russians who have been propping up a bankrupt Trump. It’s a never-before-even-imagined issue in American foreign policy: What if the president’s personal business interests — his and his family’s fortune — depend on the good will of a foreign power? And suddenly, this seemed realer still in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee by Russian-connected intelligence agencies and the leak of its embarrassing emails.
As everyone has known, but largely failed to deliver on, there are many more shocking narratives to be written about Trump. The bankruptcy of the Trump Shuttle before it made its first payment on its debt, the peculiar financing of Mar-a-Lago, the baroqueness of Trump’s personal life, now being conveniently ignored by his evangelical supporters, among them.
But, not only may print have waited too long to find its voice, it may also be too late for print to matter. In the past, in a conventional world, print led the media discussion. Television took its cues from national newspapers and news magazines. If anything, television now takes its cues from social media, the form of media most dominated by Trump himself.
Television, as it created Trump, yet could break him and help decide this campaign. The question is, in the short time remaining, does it have the wherewithal, the form, the language, the backbone — with yet no real help from Hillary Clinton, struggling to find her own voice — to express what is in front of its face?” [Source]
Personally, I think of the movie Distinguished Gentleman when I think of Mr trump. The parallels are kind of scary. Truly a case of life imitating art.
Well, except for one thing: Thomas Jefferson Johnson was smarter, and he certainly had a lot more class.
*Pic from Wikipedia.