The Exhausting Codependency of the Media and the Trump White House

Trump press corps

I am not one for conspiracy theories but I’m beginning to wonder about what’s up with the feud between the Trump Administration and the press corps. They ostensibly hate each other but somehow this bickering redounds to the benefit of both of them.

TV news ratings surged during the 2016 political season, when the media gave the then-long shot candidate Trump billions of dollars in free publicity, and they haven’t abated much during the early days of his presidency. The print media seems to doing equally well, with the New York Times reporting a quarter million increase paid digital subscriptions last quarter.

Consider the case of CNN’s Jake Tapper, well-known to political junkies but relatively invisible to the vast American public – at least until he was the subject of a notorious Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Kellyanne Conway with a fatal attraction for being booked on his show. How many other political reporters have, like Tapper, seen their visibility soar since they started hooking horns with the Administration? Maybe someone like Rachel Maddow, whose All Trump All the Time diatribes have sent her ratings soaring?

For his part, Trump’s refusal to abide by the niceties of established presidential decorum has kept him front and center of the American consciousness almost every single day since January 20. Plus it makes him a big hero among that very sizable portion of the U.S. public that absolutely loathes the media.

I honestly don’t think news organizations understand the full extent to which conservatives despise them. If they did they wouldn’t wear it like a badge of honor or think they must be doing something right whenever conservatives complain. This antipathy predates Trump by thirty years and his willingness to endure media scorn is precisely what propelled him to power.

When Trump and the media go at it, they are like the codependent parents of a dysfunctional family and the rest of us are the innocent kids who wish they’d either stop fighting or just get divorced. It’s exhausting and there’s never a day off because whenever it starts to get normal, Trump will wake up on a Saturday morning and tweet something crazy, giving the media another excuse to go berserk when the rest of us would just like to take a nap.

The reason recent presidents have tried unconventional ways of communicating with the public is that traditional media have lost interest in being the main vehicle through which presidents get their message across. Two or three decades ago you could count on the president giving three or four major policy addresses a year, plus few annual primetime press conferences. These were all dutifully presented live on TV before huge audiences.

Then the networks, under competitive pressure from entertainment cable channels that had no intention of covering a presidential speech, decided there was no “news value” in primetime presidential addresses and dropped them altogether. Adieu primetime Oval Office speeches. What we got instead was the spectacle of the president of the United States appearing on Zack Galafanakis’s “Between Two Ferns,” Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee” and Mark Maron’s “WTF” podcast. It was a short step from that to Twitter.

To hear the media and the left tell it Trump’s attacks on the media are part of a secret plan to inaugurate American fascism. But what has he done besides name-calling? OK, it wasn’t nice to call them the “enemy of the people” or to blast them to their face in an impromptu press conference, but it was the Obama Administration that used the Espionage Act to go after whistle blowers who leaked to the press and who destroyed press privileges in the federal Fourth Circuit court with subpoenas against The New York Times reporter James Risen.

Oh sure, there is the incident in which White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer excluded The New York Times and CNN from a background briefing that was attended by Breitbart and The Washington Times. This has to be the most inconsequential inside baseball story in the young history of the Trump administration.

These small gatherings, called “gaggles,” involve a chosen few reporters who come into the press secretary’s office and get some background information. There is always a pool reporter present who reports back what was said so The New York Times and CNN were able to use that information to inform their readers and viewers of any news that transpired. And besides, remember when the Obama Administration tried to keep Fox News out of their briefings?

What GaggleGate boils down to is that Spicer was petty in not inviting some A-list reporters he didn’t like into his office and these reporters got their noses out of joint. For some reason this was national news.

Clearly there is no censorship or “chilling” of press freedom in this country. Trump gets pounded pretty good by the media every day, and I suspect he secretly likes it, being a practitioner of the “any news is good news” approach to publicity. The media doesn’t HAVE to go caterwauling every time Trump calls them a bad name, but if they didn’t they wouldn’t be able to call attention to themselves either.

So Trump and the media are having a jolly old time slugging it out with us, the innocent public, caught in the middle. This was starting to get old even before the Inauguration but now that we’re two months into the Presidency, can we please dial it back and hear about something else that’s happening in the world?

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