Major media by-in-large still doesn’t understand how to cover President Trump. They try to operate under the old (correct) rule of “if the president says something, it’s newsworthy.” However, one week with Trump on the campaign trail should have proved that maxim false. Trump says a lot of things—most of which are empty, propagandistic, disjointed thoughts. The fact that news networks still do live broadcasts of Trump’s propaganda while he calls them the enemy of the people is proof that the folks who run the CNN’s of the world value ratings more than their journalistic integrity (I really want to make this distinction clear: I am blaming network executives here, not the journalists who work underneath them).
Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii spoke out against this practice during last night’s Trump madness.
This is exactly right. You can't just ignore Trump rallies. After all, he is the president. However, broadcasting these rallies live and unedited is doing Trump a service. These rallies are spectacles utterly devoid of substance. The media is a central part of the show Trump is putting on. He confines them to a pen, and inevitably calls on his supporters to direct their ire towards the press. Without their presence, much of the anger in the crowd would remain aimless and Trump's shtick would miss a crucial component. By sticking themselves at propaganda ground zero, the media is making themselves the story.
Trump's demonization of the media is incredibly dangerous. As Paste's Roger Sollenberger highlighted today, it sure seems inevitable that Trump's invective will get a reporter(s) killed. However, that doesn't mean that major outlets like CNN are blameless in creating this environment. They are playing Trump's game—broadcasting his vitriol devoid of proper context live to millions of people. Without their assist, Trump's message at these rallies would reach a much smaller audience.
Sure, after Trump's rants are done, the fact-checkers descend upon Very Serious Panels to tell us all the ways that Trump is wrong, but they could do that without giving Trump an unchecked platform to spew his bile beforehand. This whole spectacle isn't about disseminating facts, but entertainment. Conservative columnist Jay Cost nailed the symbiotic relationship between Trump and the media earlier this week.
Trump is a ratings magnet, and this is where I depart from my critique of the media and direct it at you and me, the media consumers. Ratings don’t appear out of nowhere. They happen because you and I tune in. CNN and the like would stop broadcasting Trump rallies in an instant if everyone turned their TV off the second he came on. They broadcast them because people watch—presumably because of the same law of humanity that keeps our attention focused on the car crash on the side of the highway. During my nearly two years here at Paste, I have learned that the easiest way to generate clicks is to include Trump’s name in the headline. I’ll stop writing “clickbait” when you stop clicking on it. We simply cannot turn away from the spectacle of Trump.
We’re actively helping Trump, folks. A lot. CNN, MSNBC, you, the viewer, me, the writer. All of us are complicit in some way, shape or form. Trump is a ratings bonanza who blocks out the sun in the media world, and the need to generate profit makes us dependent on his insanity. Sulome Anderson, an amazingly talented foreign correspondent, quit her lifetime of hard work because media outlets literally had zero appetite for any non-Trump stories. She is now covering extremism in America.
We all have a hand in this, but it starts with network executives like Jeff Zucker refusing to be complicit in Trump’s propaganda. By all means—recap Trump’s rallies. There’s plenty of insane material to be fact-checked that would likely drive ratings, but by covering the entire spectacle, our news networks are acting as Trump’s de facto minister of propaganda. Trump wants an extravaganza in order to drive engagement and ratings. The problem is that’s also what drives our capitalistic media model. Ironically, the “Fake News Media!” is one of Trump’s greatest allies. Without their constant attention on his vitriol, it would have less of an impact. Let’s hope it doesn’t take one of their journalists getting killed for folks like Jeff Zucker to realize their complicity in Trump’s continuous degradation of America.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.