So, 2017 appears to be ending with one more news cycle of “Did you see what crazy thing President Trump said?!” Except, this time, much of what Trump said is actually both very true and quite important.
Specifically, I’m referring to Trump’s analysis, during a bizarrely casual interview at his golf course, that the news media badly wants/needs him to be reelected because their very survival depends on it.
Trump told The New York Times:
“I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, ‘Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.’ O.K.”
While this prediction from Trump has been widely mocked as being delusional, or, at best, an attempted joke, it is actually quite plausible and even rather likely. In fact, I have been one of those making the same observation for quite a while.
If Trump has a “genius,” it is clearly in the realm of media manipulation, which has been the foundation of every success he has ever had, real or perceived, in his entire life. For instance, he was never really remotely a great businessman, but the media, because they loved his narrative, allowed him to be perceived as one, and that gave him the leverage to survive failures which would have clearly finished non-celebrities.
Trump is so good at this is because he intrinsically understands what makes the media tick, almost like a savant. But the source of this power is not magical, but rather the fact that he is SO much like the average person of authority in the news media.
Since television and overnight ratings radically altered the machinery of the news business, those who have gotten into this racket are generally narcissistic, attention-starved, insecure, lazy, arrogant, money-hungry, fame-whores with a vastly over-inflated view of their own intelligence/importance who grade their work not by truth, but purely by popularity.
As you can see, Trump is just like the average big-time media person, which is why he understands them like brothers from another mother.
So Trump understands that, with a basic business model which has been badly broken by fragmentation and the Internet, the news media is in an existential crisis. This means that their primary motivation on any given day is what will help them keep their precious job, with the least amount of real work, so they can remain rich and famous.
Consequently, what is good for ratings/traffic has now moved WAY up the list of criteria for how a story is evaluated. Back in the “olden days” (say pre-1992, but definitely pre-2008) the news media could be counted on to base most of their reporting on at least perceived truths, but with an extra emphasis on those stories which also happened to fit their ideological agenda and which were good for ratings.
In almost all walks of life, there is an inverse relationship between how good things currently are and generally how willing people are to be ethical or selfless. Back when media outlets were a license to print money, they could afford, largely, to allow truth/significance dictate most of what got reported and how stories were portrayed. Today, as the media ships struggle to stay afloat, ratings/revenue are pretty much ALL that matters. The tail is now completely wagging the dog.
Trump comprehends this better than anyone partly because he saw how the media treated him during the primary campaign. In what was an abject abdication of their journalistic responsibilities and a desperate bid to inject their sagging industry with steroids, they gave him over two BILLION dollars in free media simply because they knew the absurdity of his candidacy was great for ratings (as well, many of them probably wrongly thought, as I did, that he would be the easiest candidate for Hillary Clinton to beat).
There is no doubt that most of the news media personally despises Trump and thinks he is bad for the country. In the not-too-distant past, that would have meant that they would move heaven and earth to make sure he was not reelected (like they tried and failed to do with George W. Bush). However, the news media is now reduced to the mentality of a drug addict and the only fix they can currently find (unless O.J. Simpson decides to murder a few more beautiful people) is more Donald Trump.
This is why I am convinced that if Democrats take the House in 2018, that Trump will be impeached in 2019, but, barring something catastrophic, will never be removed from the office. This is primarily because no one in a position of real power, not Republicans or Democrats, and clearly not the media, will have a self-interest in him leaving office.
For the news media, going from President Trump to President Pence would be like telling a teenage boy that his access to porn has been cut off and been replaced with his mom’s catalog magazines.
This same problem will almost certainly exist, just as Trump suggests in coverage of the 2020 campaign (assuming Trump runs which, based on yesterday’s interview seems very likely). Unless the Democratic candidate is Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, or “The Rock,” there is just no possible way for the news media to avoid a very real recession/depression in Trump loses, which would result both in the loss of media jobs/salaries, as well as them then being forced to do the real, often rather difficult/boring, job of actual journalism.
Ironically, news media’s general loss of control over the voting populace, which was so evident in Trump’s 2016 win, may end up being the best argument that they will not be able to help him win in 2020.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.