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Trump Has The Media Crying All The Way To The Bank

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Trump Has The Media Crying All The Way To The Bank

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Donald Trump’s tweet about the media’s being “the enemy of the American people” was a classic distraction — in this case, from questions swirling around his team’s troubling ties with our Russian adversaries. While the FBI, CIA, and Senate Intelligence Committee investigate, a few thoughts on how news sources under Trumpian attack should respond.

When Trump tweets that CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC and The New York Times stink, what should the scolded media do? For starters, they should watch their audience, ad revenues, and subscriber lists grow. The last thing they should do is droop in shame and promise to be nicer next time. No, this is working for them.

Trump may bash the traditional media to please his base of die-hards, but the anti-Trump base is a lot bigger, and it’s growing. It’s also affluent. And one way to resist is to buy what Trump condemns.

When the White House boycotted CNN, the news channel’s ratings actually rose. CNN’s audience among viewers ages 25 to 54 is up more than 50 percent this year.

MSNBC’s viewership among this prized (by advertisers) demographic has surged more than 30 percent. In January, The Rachel Maddow Show posted a 71 percent jump in total viewers.

Trump tweets about the “failing” and “dwindling” New York Times, but in the last three months of 2016, the company added 276,000 paying subscribers to its digital-only news product. Such startling gains couldn’t have happened without Trump.

The Washington Post’s website ended last year with record traffic and digital ad revenue. New subscriptions were up 75 percent over the year before, and the company announced plans to hire 60 more reporters.

Two things are happening. One, Trump has made the news gruesomely fascinating. And two, the traditional media outlets are providing refuge for those who find Trump appalling.

And here’s an encouraging trend for venerable newspapers: Younger Americans were likelier to patronize the Times, the Post, and The Wall Street Journal for election news than those 50 or older. The Pew Research Center found that younger consumers increasingly want to read the news (overwhelmingly online), as opposed to watching and hearing it.

Trump has dumped a lot of customs in how White Houses deal with the media. In the early months of his ascendancy, the legacy news organizations stumbled around, trying to maintain their rules of coverage. They seemed to feel a patriotic duty to maintain a cushion of respect around the office of president — a weakness Trump exploited.

At a certain point, though, the mainstream media understood they and Trump were playing a different game. They started smoothing out the playing field by replacing headline words such as “hedges” and “shifts” with words such as “lies.” And they stopped giving Trump and his surrogates valuable forums to answer their questions with empty propaganda.

When Joe Scarborough ditched Kellyanne Conway’s freelancing idiocy on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, he improved the conversation while generating buzz for himself. Same with CNN’s Don Lemon when he cut off a Trump spokesman babbling about fake news. Were Trump in the news business, he’d do the same.

To feed the growing hunger for some version of the truth, traditional news sources must maintain standards. That means not distorting Trump positions (to the extent they can be ascertained). It means quoting Trump surrogates when they have something to say that matters.

What’s not going to happen is that one side unilaterally disarms by observing old norms while the other smashes through the barriers of a gentler political tradition. Legacy media are biting back, and that, it turns out, is good both for the news and for business.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com.

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump attends  a meeting in Washington U.S., February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop’s nationally syndicated column appears in over 150 newspapers. Media Matters ranks her column 20th nationally in total readership and 14th in large newspaper concentration. Harrop has been a guest on PBS, MSNBC, Fox News and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is a frequent voice on NPR and talk radio stations in every time zone as well.

A Loeb Award finalist for economic commentary in 2004 and again in 2011, Harrop was also a Scripps Howard Award finalist for commentary in 2010. She has been honored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and the New England Associated Press News Executives Association has given her five awards.

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6 Comments

  1. ray February 21, 2017

    The Democratic Party needs to start standing up to Trump.

    Reply
    1. JPHALL February 21, 2017

      Not just Trump, but the Republican party as well!

  2. I of John February 21, 2017

    Good article, just the chicken soup i needed,

    Reply
  3. Aaron_of_Portsmouth February 21, 2017

    Morbid curiosity is another way of describing the attention Trump has generated. First, it started with ordinary citizens fascinated with the unusual, all the bombast, the buffoonery and spectacle of the Republican Debates. (Sanders also had a method and style that appealed—fortunately, he was at least pragmatic, and was able to appeal to a higher level of the human mind. One or two Republicans almost achieved the same level of sanity—but only for the briefest of moments).
    Humans are wired to be easily excited by the bizarre and the outlandish, and those with less motivation to look at what’s behind the outlandish are easily seduced to embrace Trump’s buffoonery, which would explain in large measure for his zest appeal of his character with those easily impressed by Marx Brothers-like zaniness.

    Somehow, society to a much larger degree need to move beyond childish infatuation with showmanship, and begin to be more thoughtful, critical, and to sharpen their ability to discern.

    Reply
  4. Dominick Vila February 22, 2017

    Should we assume this is part of the strategy to Make America Great Again? It is obviously something Trump should brag about when he talks about all the jobs he has created since his EC victory in November. All kidding aside, the ascendancy of an arrogant narcissist, intellectually and temperamentally unfit to be President, has been a bonanza to the “fake news” outlets who dared challenge the Savior and question his alternative facts. BTW, has anyone heard Donald say anything about the tens of thousands of workers that ALCOA is planning to lay off?

    Reply
    1. FireBaron February 22, 2017

      Well, Dom, as long as ALCOA doesn’t move them to Mexico, they should escape the wrath of Teflon Donnie.

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