January 28, 2017
Watching the news these days is to stare at a screen, confused, as the TV anchor shouts at the viewer, “Aren’t you mad about this tweet?!”
In the short time since President Trump was elected, and in the even shorter time since he was sworn into office, the public has been made to endure a parade of media obsessions that barely qualify as news and certainly aren’t scandals.
Since Election Day, Trump has saved hundreds of jobs in Indiana, convinced business CEOs to commit to new investments in the economy, started negotiations with foreign countries and signed a raft of executive orders to undo Barack Obama’s legacy.
There’s plenty to scrutinize there, but it’s Trump’s side gig as a culture commentator on Twitter that preoccupies journalists, who swear his murmurings about ratings for the new “Apprentice” are a looming threat to the republic.
After Meryl Streep wept over the election results at the Golden Globes this month, Trump on Twitter called her “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood.”
Leaving aside that that’s objectively true, undermining an actress’s talent isn’t particularly consequential, even if it’s coming from the then-president elect.
But cable news was stacked with segment after segment analyzing why Trump would tweet that, what it meant and is this okay?!
Media reporting on Trump admin.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper solemnly offered context.
“As president elect, for someone to have such a raw nerve of emotion is amazing to me in this most powerful position but that’s where we are,” he said on his show.
It was amazing to watch Trump haggle the price of the next Air Force One before he was even in office. His opinion on the actress might come a distant second for most people.
A few days earlier, Trump was set for an intelligence briefing. That morning, on Twitter, he referred to himself as a “ratings machine” and hit Arnold Schwarzenegger for getting “destroyed” as host of NBC’s “The Apprentice.”
Journalists everywhere were taken aback, and Chris Cillizza, entrusted by the Washington Post to explain politics to its readers, pondered and puzzled in deep thought.
He wrote that the tweets were “so very revealing” and that for Trump, “nothing else matters. Crowds, ratings — that’s the measure of a man.”
Most people are not on Twitter and Trump’s supporters did not put him in office because they care about his take on reality TV. They want to know that he’s going to build the wall.
By the way, he’s maintained that it will be built, and this week he signed an order to begin construction.
Average American: Okay, thanks for the update.
Media: But aren’t his tweets about TV unpresidential?!
Just this week Trump tweeted praise for Fox News for having higher Inauguration Day ratings than CNN, which he referred to as “FAKE NEWS.”
A defining characteristic of journalists is self-importance (as any column by the New York Times’ Charles Blow demonstrates) and Trump’s comment was crafted to mock them by tapping into it.
“Trump’s public endorsement of Fox News over cable news rivals is something I’ve never seen before,” said New York magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman. “He’s acknowledging Fox is now state TV.”
“When the president thinks he has a right to help the public pick and choose its media sources, it is a direct threat to democracy,” said David Rothkopf, the top editor at Foreign Policy magazine.
It was Fox that hosted the debate Trump boycotted in the Republican primary, and it was Megyn Kelly, at the time a Fox anchor, who Trump needled throughout the campaign.
Fox lived through eight years of the last president singling it out for its coverage. So what if it’s CNN’s turn?
The media is a story that the media love to cover.
Meanwhile, Trump met with union leaders (highly unusual for a Republican), restricted taxpayer dollars for overseas abortions, and withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
The press treats those like news briefs, then gets back to their regular programming: Did you hear that Trump lied about how big his inauguration crowd was?!
The media’s self-regard is always silly. This is making it sillier.