When we talk about President Trump (as we’ve been ), it’s so easy to focus on his deficiencies — his record number of , or his seeming about his administration’s own initiatives, or his , or his management style that seems to mainly involve . When we do that, however, we tend to forget one thing. The man also accomplished one of the most difficult feats known to humankind, something various smart folks including John Kerry, Mitt Romney, Al Gore and John McCain can attest to – getting elected president of the United States. Like the proverbial , Trump surely must know one big thing.
That one thing, as we saw throughout 2015 and 2016, is manipulating the media, not only to get a ridiculous amount of free air time, but also to work the spin cycle of rage and resentment and to use that news coverage — no matter how negative it appears to be on the surface — to keep his base of supporters engaged and often whipped up in a state of frenzy. And as 2018 dawns, The Donald clearly hasn’t lost track of his One Big Idea.
So it was this past week — the totally-devoid-of-actual-news dead zone between Christmas and New Year’s — that the president suddenly, without warning, made himself available for a half hour, without any aides present and with minimal interruption, to New York Times reporter Michael S. Schmidt for . In these crazy times, that seemed like an eternity.
Trump made some news over the course of 30 minutes, of course. He claimed that “” — a statement that was by constitutional scholars and could foreshadow . He insisted there was “no collusion” between his 2016 campaign and Russia’s election hacking a whopping 16 times, a classic case — one could argue — of the man “.” But most reviews of the Times interview focused on three other things:
– The president of the United States is a chronic and perhaps pathological liar. , a rate of nearly one per minute — including falsehoods that he’s saved coal in a West Virginia that’s “doing fabulously,” that no Democrats believe Trump’s campaign colluded with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, that his endorsement in an Alabama Senate primary pulled Sen. Luther Strange out of fifth place (among other problems, there were only three candidates), and that millions of people have joined health care associations that don’t yet exist. . The habitual dishonesty from the commander-in-chief is one of the greatest threats to American democracy.
– Journalists need to do a better job challenging Trump’s most alarming statements and his lies in real time. Most journalists will tell you that there’s a variety of ways to conduct an interview, and often the let-the-subject-ramble approach elicits more news than a confrontational in-your-face grilling, which causes the subject to clam up or even end the interview. That said, Trump rarely speaks anymore with journalists who aren’t from Fox News or Christian broadcasters, and such as Trump knowing more than “the greatest CPA” about the recent tax bill, let alone his declaration of authoritarian-type power over the Justice Department.
– Several top pundits expressed concern that Trump is in a state of serious cognitive decline. The flip side of the wide-open and unchallenged interview style was that Trump’s rambling answers, his rapid topic-jumping and his seeming disconnection from the realities of health care reform, the Russia probe, and other critical issues had some well-regarded political analysts openly questioning whether the president is suffering from dementia or some other impairment. CNBC’s John Harwood, a straight-down-the-middle veteran Beltway journalist, wrote that “.” Esquire’s Charles Pierce called the interview “,” while Vox’s Ezra Klein stated flatly: “.”
It’s hard to disagree, and yet in one all-important way, Trump clearly has not lost it … not yet, anyway. The interview itself, and Trump’s domination of the news cycle for most of a week in which he seemingly did little besides play golf, is a tribute to his media savvy. The ensuing flood of stories about the president’s provable lies and his incoherence will merely be spun among Trump’s supporters as more proof that he drives liberals insane — a skill that 36 percent of the country apparently values more dearly than the ability to see a doctor, and which thus holds Trump’s flock together.
Most important — and I think this was the most critical takeaway from the interview — is that Trump surely seems fully cognizant that the same forces that fueled his improbable 2016 victory will be every bit as much in play in 2020, if his implosive presidency can last that long. :
We’re going to win another four years for a lot of reasons, most importantly because our country is starting to do well again and we’re being respected again. But another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, the New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, “Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.” O.K.
That’s a half-truth, at best. everywhere except Israel, and it will be miraculous if the economic recovery that began under Barack Obama and has continued in Trump’s first 11 months doesn’t hit a speed bump before 2020. But he’s absolutely right in that the media — especially cable TV — remains addicted to the high ratings and record profits of covering Trump the way it covered Trump in 2016 … and that paved the way for his victory.
“,” CNN chief Jeff Zucker said last month, adding: “CNN’s been around for 37 years, this is the most-watched year in the history of CNN on television.” That’s remarkable because in past cycles TV news viewing has plummeted in the year after a presidential election, and, arguably, MSNBC and Fox News did even better in 2017 than CNN.
That — and the tens of millions of dollars in ad revenue that come with the Trump effect — doesn’t mean that journalists will “tank” for the president in 2020. It just doesn’t work that way. But it does portend three more years of the style of coverage that greases the pole for , and while a Trump re-election sounds crazy with his horrible approval numbers, is it any crazier than Trump winning the contest in 2016? It’s scary to have a president who lies so brazenly and who seems out-of-touch with fundamental reality — but it’s even scarier to think he could still be doing this from a presidential perch seven years from now.
Published: December 31, 2017 — 3:01 AM EST | Updated: December 31, 2017 — 11:50 AM EST
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