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Another Trip Around The Sun
Before we turn away from Trump for a bit, let's take stock of the Trump Addiction
September 13, 2023
Dateline: The day the whole drip-drip-drip of media reporting on Biden not being able to run in 2024 got louder, from NBC
Watching this week…
— Trump-addicted press misses the point
— “Trump Can’t Win” storyline is back
— Media’s Hunter Biden Original Sin
— What Happened to Scarborough, ESPN’s Gambling Gamble
— Great Moments in Awkward Father-in-Law Questions Journalism
The Acela Media’s counterproductive Trump Addiction that never fully subsided is fully back
There is perhaps no other journalist in America who saw Donald Trump coming in 2016 better than Salena Zito, who — unlike so many of her colleagues — actually went out and listened to everyday voters before crafting her narratives about the way the election was likely to go. When Salena gives her analysis, based on reporting, listen.
So I was intrigued by a piece she filed at the end of last month headlined “Everyone’s tired of politics,” with the perfect sub-hed, “Everyone outside of the media-activist-pundit bubble, that is.”
“If you spent your time watching the news or trolling social media every day — which is literally the job description for many national journalists — you might assume that nearly every person in the country is invested in either Trump or Biden,” writes Zito. “However, when you drive to places where the speed limit is 35 miles an hour, you find a different reality. And that’s the problem with how the country too often is covered these days. Our politics would likely improve — somewhat at least — if more in the media checked their assumptions and listened to the people they purport to cover.”
In a sentence neither reporter may likely appreciate, I thought about Salena’s article while reading an excellent Hamilton Nolan Substack rant last week, about the “Nihilistic Poll Brained Celebration of Nothingness.” “The single biggest problem with the way that this dominant media class covers politics is that they have voluntarily abandoned the idea that their job is to think critically about the substance of politics—the policies and their consequences in the world,” Nolan writes. And later: “Every time you see an interview or a news story in which the main point is how some policy proposal or crisis or tangible action will affect the standing of the politicians themselves—in the polls, in the party, in the reality show of the campaign—you are witnessing a failure of journalism. Or, more precisely, the absence of journalism. The premise of the entire story is fucked.” I’d strongly recommend you read both Salena and Hamilton in full.
Nolan’s point describes pretty much all coverage of former President Donald Trump these days. And Zito and Nolan’s work shows just how counterproductive this approach to journalism is.
That said, this newsletter is all about Donald Trump. But after this one, I’m going to step away from the Trump firehose in the newsletter for a few weeks, as there are a lot more media stories out there that deserve coverage too.
It’s not that Trump isn’t essential to what is newsworthy these days — he’s obviously the presumptive GOP nominee, and facing four criminal indictments and counting. But so often the coverage of and around Trump is vapid and unsurprising, providing nothing of substance for the audience. (A notable exception to this: a rare cross-promotional mention of my actual job, as Megyn Kelly’s 67-minute sit-down with Trump this week was full of substantive exchanges, providing viewers and listeners unique insight. It’s what can happen when you neither love nor loathe Trump, and are simply doing the job of a journalist.)
Here’s an example of where we stand when it comes to the state of the Trump Addiction in the Acela Media. A couple Sundays ago, GOP candidate Vivek Ramaswamy was the lead guest on the vaunted Sunday show perch of George Stephanopolous, “This Week” on ABC. Throughout the 10-minute interview, every single question — literally every single one — was about Donald Trump. Watch the full interview by clicking the screenshot:
First question: “Your hand shot up pretty fast at the debate when you were asked whether you would vote for Donald Trump in the general election, even if he was a convicted felon. Can you just explain why you would vote for a convicted felon for president?”
“Why do you think it's ok for a convicted felon to be president?” asked Stephanopoulos later. When pressed about his “obsession” with Trump, he dismissed it, although closed out the interview with the very substantive, “So your bottom line is you would vote for a convicted felon, because other people are voting for a convicted felon?”
Next up was Democratic Senator Tim Kaine with the response. That interview featured almost every question about Trump too, from asking about the 14th Amendment to talking about polls showing Biden and Trump in a “dead heat,” and simply asking, “How do you explain that?”
Is there a single person in America outside of the few hundred people who populate green rooms in New York and D.C. that give a shit about any of this? Sure, perhaps the relatively tiny percentage who are political junkies and hobbyists, who have MSNBC mugs and NPR tote bags. But spending 15 minutes dissecting what is essentially nothing as the lead on your Sunday national news show is a monumental waste of valuable intellectual real estate — and doesn’t serve to inform the public.
Stephanopoulos is hardly alone. This is the modus operandi for most in the media today.
The truth is, for most Americans, the sun is the sun. That thing in the sky they see when they go outside, which they try to do as often as they can. But for many in the media, they spend their time on Twitter and staring down into their phones. For them, Donald Trump is the sun. Their entire world revolves around him. He is the center of their universe. He holds all the gravitational power.
Did you hear Joe Biden is potentially getting impeached? Watch how the press plays the “cover the Biden impeachment inquiry, but make it about Donald Trump” card.
Here we go again. Just like 2016, and pretty much every year since, it’s another trip around the sun as we enter 2024.
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Media running 2016 “Trump Can’t Win” playbook again — remember how that turned out?
Which 2024 foregone conclusion is more likely to be proven wrong — Trump or Biden as their party’s nominee? I’d say at this point it’s actually more likely that Trump runs against someone else than Biden does.
But whatever happens, if Trump is in the general election as the GOP nominee, we’re going to hear a lot of what we’ve already been hearing from the press, which is that he simply can’t win. And that sounds very familiar, because it was exactly what was being said in 2016. Back then, like now, it was being said by two very different subsets of the media. On one side, it was liberal media assuring their audience that Trump may be the nominee but there was no chance he was actually going to become president. On the other side, it was “GOP insiders” (or NeverTrump GOP media) lamenting that their nominee was unelectable in a general election.
Here’s one example from The Nation, in 2016:
Let’s compare that to National Review, in this column by Andy McCarthy from last month:
In fact, the URLs from both these stories promise the same thing: “trump-cant-win/.”
Now I like Andy McCarthy and I know he’s very smart. But whether you’re a GOP fan in the media who wants to win the election, or you’re a liberal media member who is nervous but at least assured by the knowledge that there is no path to a Trump victory in November 2024, the reality is the same — you very easily could be wrong. He could win. He’s done it before!
So any time someone in the press (or your daily life) tells you Donald Trump “can’t” win, know that this person is misinformed, and misinforming you. Trump’s unlikely to win. He may even have less of a shot than he did in 2016. But he can, because he did. And the same media mistakes are being made all over again…
Media’s Hunter Biden Original Sin, and Political Homelessness - Fourth Watch Pod Highlights
The way Donald Trump has left a permanent scar on the American media and our overall cultural conversation was the context behind both recent Fourth Watch Podcasts.
First, I talked with the excellent Bridget Phetasy (go check out her Substack:) about what it means to be “politically homeless” (and “politically useless”), which you can watch here, as well as why "real America" is like the "middle seat" on a plane, being a writer, how getting married and motherhood has changed her, her move to Texas, and much more.
And I also did a new format for an episode last month, which was more “show”-like, featuring a variety of segments. I began with a look at the corporate media’s Hunter Biden original sin, which traced back to their coverage of the laptop in October 2020 as a symptom of their Trump addiction. Then Glenn Greenwald joined me, as someone who has seen the affects of this Trump addiction more directly than perhaps anyone in the press. Watch a clip of that, about his previous relationships with top MSNBC hosts, here. Then Shelby Talcott of Semafor and Tara Palmeri of Puck joined me to talk about what was happening on the trail when it came to Trump, Hunter Biden, and more. And I closed it out with my friend JT for a lighter segment, where we concluded that Trump and also Lizzo are innocent until proven guilty (and debuted a new term for Hunter Biden: “Shame-y”).
Scarborough’s shift, and ESPN’s gambling gamble: Recent “Rabbit Hole” columns
Sticking with the Trump theme…
Joe Scarborough used to be different. He was interesting — a unique voice on MSNBC, and in the media landscape. He actually seemed to relish that role. He was also, you know, a Republican. But now he just sounds like every other #Resistance-signaling broken brained Acela Media Trump addict. What happened?
I tried to get to the bottom of this by looking at Scarborough’s rise at MSNBC, his deep connection to Donald Trump, the response he got from the rest of the media in 2017, and what he became during the Trump years, I argue, as a direct result. You can find the full 1,300-word “Rabbit Hole” column here, now unlocked for all subscribers:
And speaking of “Rabbit Hole” columns, a look at my last one as well, on ESPN’s major gambling gamble when it comes to the sports content giant getting into business with the world of sports betting.
It’s going to have broader implications — because under that same umbrella are content hubs like ABC News. Check it out here:
WATCH IT… You don’t have to be in the know about the Barstool Sports internal soap opera to enjoy this lengthy argument between founder Dave Portnoy and a variety of employees over the fate of their “Mean Girls” podcast hosts. This video was last week — this week it was announced the “Mean Girls” contract wasn’t renewed, so enjoy this with that knowledge.
HEAR IT… Two of the media’s most unique thinkers got together last week, and the result was expectedly enjoyable and surprising. Bill Maher was a guest on Joe Rogan’s podcast for a brief (by Rogan standards) conversation about the state of America and our culture, and a lot more.
READ IT… Like most in the media, I’m not a “science” person — the other side of my brain is definitely more engaged. So I don’t totally understand this intriguing New York Times column about why “the story of our universe may be starting to unravel,” but I’m still very fascinated by the implications. It includes the line, “The finding is akin to parents and their children appearing in a story when the grandparents are still children themselves.” Look, basically this new giant space telescope launched last year is making us rethink everything we thought we knew about the universe, no biggie…
Chuck Todd is officially down at Meet the Press, as he has handed off the reins to Kristen Welker. What’s next for Todd?
Speaking of Sunday shows, TVNewser talked to Shannon Bream about her first year at Fox News Sunday, and she highlighted the rise in younger viewers.
The New York Times goes long with a rare Anderson Cooper interview, who talked about his grief podcast, “Astor” book, and former boss.
Interesting deep dive by THR’s Alex Weprin on what the CNN-Max streaming deal means for the broader TV landscape.
Glenn Greenwald called out his old friend Rachel Maddow in a must-read X thread about COVID.
Did you know that White house press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre had been in a longterm relationship with former CNN host Suzanne Malveaux? Well they aren’t anymore.
⏪ REWIND // FAST FORWARD: Biden’s Age Edition ⏩
⏪ It felt like this latest wave of “but really, is Biden actually too old to be president?” stories began with the latest Nate Silver Substack post in which he stated the obvious — Biden’s age “is a legitimate voter concern.”
⏩ And now we get David Ignatius, the long-time, celebrated columnist at The Washington Post, arguing in simple terms: “President Biden should not run again in 2024.” Something real is happening — and if it happens, remember this week.
I’m not sure any topic has gotten me more personally incensed about the poor media coverage than January 6. It’s such a total farce — the relentless focus on a narrow element of the day, and a total lack of curiosity about so many relevant and very open questions. As more and more rioters are hit with massive sentences, I look at videos like this and wonder — when will we get an actual journalistic look at all the outstanding questions? I hope to do that more here in the months ahead.
GREAT MOMENTS IN JOURNALISM
I’ve written about it before. I’ve interviewed him on the Fourth Watch Podcast. I love Greg Kelly. And he had a legitimately hilarious “great moment in journalism” while pressing Kimberly Guilfoyle on when her fiance Donald Trump, Jr. is going to seal the deal and make former President Trump her father-in-law.
Thanks for reading. Back next week with a “Rabbit Hole” column sure to piss off everyone…