If you watch the news on TV, read it in a newspaper, access it on a website or just hear it from a friend, what name do you see or hear most often? Trump.
Every time Trump tweets, the national media are all over it, the more absurd and ridiculous the better. Every time he tells another lie or repeats the ones he’s already been telling, the media give him full coverage, and almost always with a full color picture or video.
Despite his disparagement of the news media, calling any reports not 100 percent favorable to him “fake news,” Trump’s greatest ally is the news media, and I don’t mean just Fox News.
After the announcement that Sen. Kamala Harris would be Joe Biden’s running mate, one news portal I looked at gave Trump more space bad mouthing Harris than it did to the announcement itself.
And Trump continues to dominate with his very unpresidential slurs and insults, calling Harris “nasty” and suggesting she wasn’t born in the United States. I was surprised to learn that Trump thinks Oakland, California, is a foreign country.
Forget the polls. He was behind in the polls during the 2016 campaign. Trump knows how to get millions of dollars worth of free publicity. Never mind that much of it is negative or downright insulting. It gets his name out there. And a lot of people actually believe the things he says.
While his goal in discrediting the media would seem to be aimed at preventing negative coverage of his actions, the result has been to give him almost total dominance of the political news.
During the campaign, the media, convinced apparently that Trump was a passing diversion, relished his antics. Each time he did something ridiculous many pundits foretold his quick elimination from the race. But it didn’t happen. He stayed in and won the presidency even though he didn’t win the popular vote nationwide. Apparently, Trump was as surprised as anybody that he won.
Why? In my opinion, based on more than 50 years as a working journalist and journalism educator, it was because the media were enamored with his clownish antics, his disregard of convention, his brutal attacks on his enemies, and barrages of unedited Tweets that he almost totally dominated the press coverage. Everything he said and did made the news. His picture was on the front pages of newspapers, videos of him topped the national news broadcasts, social media spread his absurdities around the world.
Margaret Sullivan, media columnist in the Washington Post, recently wrote a column analyzing how the media failed to their job in their coverage of the last election campaign.
“News organizations,” she wrote, “failed to understand the tear-it-all-down mood of large segments of the voting public, or the racism and sexism that often fueled it.
“They let Trump, the great distractor, hijack news coverage and play assignment editor. He became the shiny new toy that they couldn’t take their eyes off.
“They glossed over, or didn’t understand, Facebook’s monumental influence on the vote, and how what appeared on social media was so deeply affected by forces outside the United States.”
Sadly, Trump succeeded, with the help of the media, in convincing people that the media, with the possible exception of Fox News, are not credible.
I sometimes wear a ball cap that bears the slogan: “A Free Press is Essential to Democracy.” A friend of mine, an intelligent man, questioned that slogan.
“The press is biased,” he said. “It slants the news. You can’t believe anything the news says.”
My response to that is that since the news is reported by mere mortals, some bias will always creep into news reports. Most of what we see on social media is opinion, not news.
However, anybody who has ever lived in a country, as I have, where the government censors the press knows the importance of press freedom, even with all its flaws.
Now, in the midst of the pandemic and the run-up to our presidential election in November, once again it’s all about Donald Trump.
Yes, a lot of the coverage is negative, not because the press is lying but because of Trump’s bungling of the national pandemic response, his still unexplained affection for Vladimir Putin and Russia, his refusal to show the American public his income tax returns, his repeated lies about almost everything, and on and on.
Unless the media wise up, and stop giving Trump all this free publicity, he will be president for another four years … at least.
The way the media could really enrage Trump would be to ignore him, at least his more absurd things. He needs the media attention and thrives on it, no matter what he says to the contrary. The public doesn’t need to see headlines about every single thing he Tweets about in the middle of the night.
Trump is a master at distracting the media when things aren’t going his way. And the media keep falling for it.
As the famous 19th century showman P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” He also said, “The bigger the humbug, the better people like it,” and “The common man, no matter how smart or tough, actually enjoys having the wool pulled over his eyes, and makes it easier for the puller.”
(Editor’s note: “media” is the plural of “medium.” I know many editors and writers now accept “media” as a singular noun, but I still prefer it as a plural)