Here We Go Again
The Trump addicts in the corporate press await a mug shot, and rejoice in their next fix
April 2, 2023
Dateline: The day Donald Trump got a real competitor in the GOP primary race…oh wait, it’s just someone who spends a lot of time on cable news
Watching this week…
— Trump Addicts in press await a mug shot
— Tech reporter’s TikTok defense backfires
— Media flails after Nashville shooting
— Trans athletes and media - Fourth Watch Pod with Cyd Zeigler
— Great Moments in Disinfo Dude Spreading Misinfo Journalism
The Trump addicts in the corporate press await a mug shot, and rejoice in their next fix
What the hell happened to that plane?
I think about MH370, the missing Malaysian Airlines plane, at least once a month. I just started the Netflix documentary. I’ve read this incredible Atlantic piece from 2019 many times (and it’s what I believe actually happened).
The “missing plane” coverage was one of the frequent critiques lobbed at CNN president Jeff Zucker at the time, in 2014. In a pre-Trump world, that was the sort of “one big story” that got the press critics all worked up. But they were wrong. That was a huge story!
Of course, then came Donald Trump, and the “one big story” that started in 2015 continued for months, and then years. I still think the Trump phenomenon justified the coverage. But I have to say, while researching this newsletter, this screenshot from March 2016… was something.
“Breaking News”! To be fair, other reporting at the time noted the “empty podium” coverage was something found not just on CNN but also on MSNBC and Fox News. Still, what happened in 2015, and then 2016, is that the corporate media became addicted to Donald Trump. They were obsessed, and they relished in the sadomasochistic relationship they had with him — it was pleasure, and pain.
When Trump left the scene in 2021, these Trump junkies were in search of their next fix. They tried January 6, but it just wasn’t the same. They craved the real thing. That pure, uncut Trump. And then, he announced he was running again in November last year, but quietly disappeared for months.
Then came the New York grand jury. On March 19, Trump announced he expected to be arrested two days later. But the day came and went. The excitement for what might be coming didn’t dissipate among the Acela Media though. “A thousand of the most violent Trump supporters in America are already in prison, or in jail awaiting trial, or under arrest,” said MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, smirking, while describing the lack of pro-Trump protests underway. What happens when he gets arrested, MSNBC’s Twitter account gleefully asked. Do we get a mug shot? Perp walk?
But the excitement turned to disappointment as the week came to a close. “You’d think that we would know better by now, but here we are, being trolled again by Donald Trump,” wrote the New Yorker’s Susan Glasser, one of the more Trump-addicted members of the corporate press, in a rare moment of introspection and self-reflection. “Whatever else the disgraced, defeated, and possibly soon-to-be-indicted former President is, he is a master when it comes to setting the terms of a media frenzy.”
And then, Friday, the good news — Trump would be indicted after all. In fact, after he turns himself in in New York City on Tuesday, he’ll fly down to Mar-a-Lago and make a speech. The giddy journalists will get their mug shot to wallpaper cable news (and the walls of their cubicles). The star is back! The addicts get their fix.
Because let’s be very honest about what’s happening here. As I told Will Cain on Fox News yesterday, the corporate media doesn’t want to see Donald Trump in jail, or dropping out of the GOP race over these charges. That means they’ll need to find a new drug to feed their addiction. DeSantis just doesn’t bring that same high (or deliver the same ratings, or page views, or subscribers). They want Trump elevated. Some would like him to be the nominee because they think he’ll be easier to beat (something Joy Behar literally said on The View last week). For others, it’s not so overt — they just want the ride to go on a little longer.
Donald Trump has been in this symbiotic relationships with the media for decades. During the 2016 campaign, I read his 1987 bestselling book “The Art of the Deal” (and wrote about my thoughts on it). It’s really worth reading for anyone who wants to understand the Trump psyche better. He’s more or less the same exact person he was then. And it’s full of quotes that provide a playbook for how he truly plays the media, to this day. “As long as they want to shoot, I’ll shovel,” he writes. And later: “Most reporters, I find, have very little interest in exploring the substance of a detailed proposal for a development. They look instead for the sensational angle.”
In another passage, he writes about the time he took a dormant construction site and made it look active in order to secure a partner for his Atlantic City casino — telling the construction equipment to move some dirt around and look busy. “What the bulldozers and dump trucks did wasn’t important, I said, so long as they did a lot of it,” he wrote. (It worked.)
He played the press in 2015 and 2016. They happily played along. They welcomed his rampage through the GOP primary. They thought he’d be easy to beat in the general election. They were wrong.
Here we go again. Tonight Jim Acosta, #Resistance hero of the Trump Era season one, was on CNN hosting a panel of fellow Trump addicts musing about all things Trump. They played the hits. Even Jeb Bush got mentioned! Love, hate. Pleasure, pain. The junkies are happily feeding their addiction, seemingly oblivious about what’s to come.
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“The Apprentice” 2024: Trump’s Return
Speaking of Trump, I dove deep into his previous, pre-presidential role as reality TV star hosting “The Apprentice” for 11 years, in my latest “Rabbit Hole” deep dive column for paid subscribers. I lay out how his experience in that gig will help him as he runs, again, in “season two” of his presidential campaigning. Check out an extended free preview here:
Tech reporter’s instinct to defend TikTok backfires, in preview of what’s to come
One of the most ethically-compromised areas for the corporate media in the weeks, months and years ahead will be the coverage of the social media platform TikTok. It’s important for consumers of content to understand what’s not being said, and the barriers to clear-eyed reporting that’s currently being navigated. On a big scale, there’s the China connection — the CCP’s direct involvement in the social platform. Many large media organizations have a China connection themselves, overtly or passively.
Then there’s the fact that TikTok is part of the marketing and social strategy at these large organizations. The Washington Post has several TikTok-only reporters! Plus, of course, there’s the fact that many young reporters, like young people in general, enjoy using TikTok incessantly (like Taylor Lorenz, also at The Washington Post).
Two recent articles shed big picture light on the other challenges. Politico points out how “the campaign to save TikTok has been years in the making,” as the company has been preparing for this coming battle with the government for years. TikTok is cozy with Anita Dunn and her PR firm, while Dunn is a part of the Biden administration. Meanwhile The Wall Street Journal looks at how other top PR spinsters like Jim Messina and David Plouffe from the Hillary and Obama teams are part of the TikTok efforts as well. Of course, Dunn, Messina and Plouffe are also cozy with the Acela Media in DC too.
This whole exercise played out in public recently, during the congressional hearing where the TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was grilled by both sides of the aisle. Washington Post tech reporter Drew Harwell is consistently one of the most friendly reporters for the TikTok spin, and he displayed that even before he began live-tweeting the hearings, noting his lunch with the CEO, who lamented the “real shame” it would be to lose U.S. voices on the platform:
What followed was as instructive as it was embarrassing. His thread attacked Republicans, attacked Facebook, and offered defense after defense of the “freedom” TikTok users have to post what they want. At one point, he tweeted about a congressman saying that the former NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom had been banned on TikTok. His knee-jerk instinct was to go into defense mode once again: “Not clear what he's talking about. He has 362,000 TikTok followers and posts videos there critical of the Chinese government all the time.”
A few days later, Harwell took a break from tweeting incessantly to write a story. The headline: “TikTok admits it banned former NBA player critical of China.”
It’s one of the great things about Twitter. Members of the press treat it like it’s their diary, and yet it’s public, for all to see. Harwell defended his actions when I pressed him about it on Twitter. “I contacted him and the company to understand what was happening, then I wrote a news story about it, which is something we do called reporting,” he said.
Sure — he reported the story, after the world could see his instinct was to run cover for the CCP-owned social platform he happens to do PR work for while moonlighting as an objective tech journalist.
But this is the problem for journalists like Harwell, and, more significantly, newsrooms like The Washington Post. I don’t know if TikTok should be banned in the United States. I’m generally for more freedom, not less. But the China element here can’t be ignored, and the conflicts of interest are so immense among the corporate press entities. They are severely compromised, in ways everyone in the audience needs to understand while this story gets reported out.
The Washington Post would be helped to find reporters who don’t brag about their lunch with TikTok’s CEO. Or at the very least, tweet a lot less while they do the actual work.
Self-Promo: Review for “Uncovered” in Washington Free Beacon
If you haven’t purchased my book “Uncovered: How the Media Got Cozy With Power, Abandoned Its Principles, and Lost the People” - please do! If you need more convincing, check out this lengthy, nuanced review in the Washington Free Beacon by the hilarious Andrew Stiles. One part: “This particular journalist might be on to something. Krakauer's new book…is a thoughtful critique of an industry that deserves to be distrusted, and in some cases despised.”
Trans Athlete Coverage, Gay Acceptance in Sports — Fourth Watch Podcast with Cyd Zeigler
Cyd Zeigler is down for a conversation. The journalist founded Outsports, which covers gay athletes, in 1999, and the conversation around that topic has certainly evolved significantly over the subsequent 20+ years. I’ve been tracking his work — and his conversations — for awhile, and I was glad to sit down for my first conversation with him in the latest Fourth Watch Podcast.
Zeigler is a Fox News viewer (a topic we discuss in the podcast). In fact, he just announced on Twitter that he registered to vote as a Republican. We went deep into the coverage in the press of trans athletes, and specifically Lia Thomas, where Zeigler told me he’s no longer scared to say the truth about the topic, despite the potential backlash. Watch that long portion of the conversation here:
Watch another clip here, where he blames the press for the perception that pro sports aren’t accepting of gay athletes. We also discussed Twitter discourse and the state of conversations, Fox News vs. CNN media consumption, and more. Download the podcast on Apple, on Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Media flailing and failing in wake of tragic Nashville school shooting
The conversation with Cyd Zeigler took place before Monday’s tragic school shooting in Nashville, in which a former student of the Christian school killed young kids and adults before being shot to death by the police. The 28-year-old also identified as a former woman, identifying as transgender and using he/him pronouns. This set of circumstances left the corporate press scrambling.
The New York Post reported on Thursday that CBS News barred the use of the word “transgender” when describing the shooter. So, I guess they chose to go with not using preferred pronouns, misgendering, and deadnaming instead?
The impetus for this bizarre decision is the pendulum swinging so far the other direction when it comes to the “trans community.” The Washington Post tweeted, “The attempts on the right to connect violence to transgender people come even though transgender people are rarely the perpetrators of mass shootings, which are overwhelmingly carried out by cisgender men, according to criminal justice experts.”
In an effort to protect “transgender people,” the press is attacking the right for acknowledging reality in this particular case. Then there’s NBC News, and this tweet:
Perhaps fear is also pervading… the religious community, which was the victims of this attack by a transgender perpetrator. But this was the norm. Over on MSNBC, a segment on Wednesday on Joy Reid’s show included chyrons like “Transgender Americans Under Siege” and “Transgender Shooting Suspect Sparks Outrage on the Right.” Only in a brain infected with cable news and politics could this conclusion be reached.
An inconvenient killing took place last week. And the media took those inconvenient facts and made them more palatable, but less true. Seems like a case for a misinformation reporter…
WATCH IT… The NFL Network’s Kyle Brandt is one of the most unique media members out there today. You don’t have to like sports or understand football to laugh through 10 minutes of Brandt breaking down the yearly NFL head coach picture in intricate detail.
HEAR IT… Ben Affleck and Matt Damon chatting with The Sports Guy, Bill Simmons. Sure, it sounds like a bunch of rich guys from Boston talking shop. But what the podcast actually includes is a fascinating and extremely raw and introspective conversation about fame, Affleck’s career, and more.
READ IT… This absolutely mammoth Tablet series of articles by Jacob Siegel is perhaps one of the more impressive journalistic works of the past few years. I’m not even done with it, but please check out “A Guide to Understanding the Hoax of the Century,” which tracks how “disinformation” became a catch-all term that has hurt all Americans.
A truly alarming situation, as Russia has arrested a Wall Street Journal reporter over “espionage” charges. This one could become a major story in U.S.-Russia relations.
Good on Fox News’ Jesse Watters for pressing Sen. Lindsey Graham over his apparent lack of knowledge that he was a sponsor of a tech bill.
BuzzFeed is publishing articles written by artificial intelligence, or AI. Yeah — this is a major story in the industry, which I’ll tackle in the next column.
Incredible moment on a recent Piers Morgan Uncensored episode where Richard Dawkins clams up and refuses to answer questions he thinks might be too controversial.
Grid News, a buzzy media start-up launched a year ago, was purchased by the soon-to-launch media start-up The Messenger, and was shut down.
Really interesting profile of Ryder Ripps — a real character of the internet — and his association with Kanye West, from Joseph Bernstein in the NYT.
What’s going on with all the whales and dolphins dying off the coast of New Jersey? I read this Popular Mechanics story and I’m still not totally sure, but I’m intrigued.
⏪ REWIND // FAST FORWARD: Objectivity Edition ⏩
⏪ Former Washington Post editor Marty Baron makes a case in his former paper for objectivity in the media.
⏩ And Eric Levitz in New York Magazine counters by basically telling Baron he’s aged out of the industry and is wrong. Objectivity — a hot topic in the media these days.
Interesting profile of Kara Swisher by Vanity Fair’s Charlotte Klein out this week, chock-full of juicy quotes from the podcast maven. But it also got me thinking… how has Swisher been able to craft this mythology around her? Her brand of tough questions consists of mostly, as far as I can tell, never reaching too far away from the consensus orthodoxy she’s very much a part of. Has “Twitter” ever been mad at Kara Swisher? Not really. She has some excellent PR, clearly. It’s a topic I’ll dive into in a month or two when I devote an entire Fourth Watch newsletter to the topic of “Public Relations” and journalism.
GREAT MOMENTS IN JOURNALISM
Come for Ben Collins — the chief disinfo dude at NBC News — spreading what he might objectively call misinformation himself. Stay for the Twitter fact-check correcting him…
Thanks for reading. Back soon with a new “Rabbit Hole” column on AI and journalism…
(Tech reporter’s instinct to defend TikTok backfires, in preview of what’s to come)-
The outright unconstitutional, dyspotian and toltalitarian S 686 bill is the real story, and I am not being hyperbolic.