When Trump Goes Low, Media Can Go Away
Dog trainers have long advised owners against reacting to their pets’ attention-seeking antics — the barking, jumping and pushiness.
“Dog owners often inadvertently reinforce (reward) these behaviors by interacting with the dog,” writes veterinary behaviorist Lisa Radosta. “Any attention can be regarded as a reward, even yelling.”
Similar advice is doled to parents of whining, tantrum-throwing toddlers. Many in the media could use it, as well. All that sputtering over Donald Trump’s personal taunts and stupid tweets is exactly what the president-elect seeks. Turn away. Turn away.
If Trump won’t take questions from serious journalists at a news conference, it’s not a news conference. Reporters are merely playing “straight man” on a reality TV show — complete with paid hecklers and promotions for Trump properties. They don’t have to be there.
Their job is to cover what Trump does, which includes his appointments and ties to foreign adversaries. If Trump publicly insults U.S. or foreign leaders, that’s still news. If he insults newspeople, so what?
But voices of high-minded journalism continue to pump up Trump as some all-powerful controller of American freedom of expression. For example, Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post, writes that Trump’s attacks pose “a deep danger for legitimate, aggressive journalism.”
They do no such thing. Trump has no control over what the professional media or anyone else says about him.
Perhaps the media should alter their own traditions in accordance with the changing times. They don’t have to obsess over every dumb thing the president-elect says, especially because his saying dumb things is no longer news.
Better to start puncturing Trump’s self-inflated titan-of-business balloon. The conservative Wall Street Journal made a fine start in reporting that Trump owed financial institutions $1.5 billion more than he listed on his disclosure forms. And it has thrown cold water on Trump’s claim to economic genius, with such headlines as “The Market Has Already Started to Dump Trump.”
Big media can stop playing defense against a man whose approval ratings are probing the earth’s core. It was a nice gesture for Fox News to defend CNN after the recent “news conference” — as CNN had done for Fox in the past. But there’s no need for a journalistic mutual defense pact. (Disclosure: I write occasional opinion pieces for CNN.)
When BuzzFeed posted the unverified stories of salacious conduct by Trump, Trump tried to blame CNN for their release. CNN explained that it did not air the nasty material, which was appended to an intelligence report on Russian interference in the recent election. CNN didn’t even link to it. It just noted its existence.
Well done, but CNN and other members of the respectable media went overboard in scolding BuzzFeed for going public with the scandalous two pages. In the digital era, the only gates a news outlet can keep are its own.
The report had been floating around Washington. If BuzzFeed hadn’t posted it, someone else would have. And if the dirty innuendo had centered on Hillary Clinton, Breitbart would have put it up in half a heartbeat.
The threat to throw reporters out of the White House press office is a recent effort to move the spotlight from Trump’s sinking currency to a thin-skinned press corps. “I want ’em out of the building,” a tough (but not tough enough to be identified) Trump official told Esquire. “We are taking back the press room.”
Well, they can have it. The reporters should be out uncovering the seediness rather than responding to Trump’s latest provocation. They are entering a golden age for American journalism and should know it.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.