Uh-oh. You’d expect someone like me to attack the Enslaved Press for their enabling of Donald Trump. What you don’t expect is a card-carrying member of the Enslaved Press to do the attacking.
In an op-ed in Politico yesterday, former CNN anchor Campbell Brown lit into the news media for effectively giving Donald Trump “editorial control” over their content.
It’s pretty damn scathing.
From her piece:
I really would like to blame Trump. But everything he is doing is with TV news’ full acquiescence. Trump doesn’t force the networks to show his rallies live rather than do real reporting. Nor does he force anyone to accept his phone calls rather than demand that he do a face-to-face interview that would be a greater risk for him. TV news has largely given Trump editorial control. It is driven by a hunger for ratings—and the people who run the networks and the news channels are only too happy to make that Faustian bargain. Which is why you’ll see endless variations of this banner, one I saw all three cable networks put up in a single day: “Breaking news: Trump speaks for first time since Wisconsin loss.” In all these scenes, the TV reporter just stands there, off camera, essentially useless. The order doesn’t need to be stated. It’s understood in the newsroom: Air the Trump rallies live and uninterrupted. He may say something crazy; he often does, and it’s always great television.
This must be such a relief for the TV executives managing a business in decline, suffering from a thousand cuts from social media and other new platforms. Trump arrived on the scene as a kind of manna from hell. I admit I have been surprised by the public candor about this bounty. A “beaming” Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, told New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg, “These numbers are crazy—crazy.” But if their bosses are frank about the great ratings, some of my friends left at the cable networks are in various degrees of denial. “Give me a break,” one told me. “You can’t put this on us. Reality has changed because of technology. Look at the White House. They’re basically running their own news organization. They bypass us every day. We’re just trying to keep up.”
And then there’s this attempt to put the best face on things, which is the most universal comment I hear: “At least this shows how much we still matter.”
So yes, I believe Trump’s candidacy is largely a creation of a TV media that wants him, or needs him, to be the central character in this year’s political drama. And it’s not just the network and cable executives driving it. The TV anchors and senior executives who don’t deliver are mercilessly ousted. The ones who do deliver are lavishly rewarded. I know from personal experience that it is common practice for TV anchors to have substantial bonuses written into their contracts if they hit ratings marks. With this 2016 presidential soap opera, they are almost surely hitting those marks. So, we get all Trump, all the time.
It is not just the wall-to-wall coverage of Trump. It’s the openness with which some are reveling in his attention. It’s the effort, conscious or not, to domesticate and pretty him up, to make him appear less offensive than he really is, and to practice a false objectivity or equivalence in the coverage. Here, journalism across all platforms—corporate, as well as publicly funded—is guilty.
Trump is a chronic liar and dissembler; this has been demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt. He repeatedly makes factual errors, large and small, in his statements. He is also a misogynist, has a cruel streak (including mocking people’s looks and physical disabilities), has condoned physical violence among his supporters and is shockingly ignorant. To ask journalists to pretend otherwise is akin to asking them to have pretended in the 1960s that George Wallace wasn’t a racist or in the 1950s that Joe McCarthy wasn’t a demagogue. Yet when former ABC anchor and National Public Radio’s legendary pioneer Cokie Roberts dared to state the truth, calling Trump “one of the least qualified candidates ever to make a serious run for the presidency,” NPR took pains to distance itself. The vice president for news issued a memo reminding staff that she is just a “commentator,” not a member of NPR’s staff.
While I agree with Brown take on the Trump media phenomenon, one thing I find remarkably absent from her piece is the fact that the media is largely responsible for Barack Obama as well. Obama’s candidacy, like Trump’s, was a media creation. Not only did the Enslaved Press go to great lengths to promote Obama’s candidacy, they also went out of their way to downplay — if not outright ignore — his many failings, his radical associations, his lack of experience or depth of knowledge and his deeply questionable past. They were the first line of defense against anyone who would question or criticize Obama. Just look at how they went after Joe Wurzelbacher of Ohio — the man they derisively named “Joe the Plumber” — for having the temerity to ask a question that revealed Obama’s socialist worldview. Rather than have to address Obama’s “If we spread the wealth around, it’s better for everyone” comment, they deflected viewers away from Obama’s answer by dissecting the man who asked it (and among those who did that was none other than Campbell Brown.)
It seems astonishing to me that in voicing criticism over how the Enslaved Press have treated the Trump candidacy, Brown is unable to see that glaring hypocrisy. To complain about how the news media gives Trump editorial control and fails to vet him objectively when the news media not only refused to vet Obama, but launched character assassinations on anyone who dared to do so is just mind-boggling.
Where was this moral outrage in 2008? Why so silent when your fellow news people were acting as Obama’s human shields?
Of course we all know the answer to that.
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