Tomorrow is the Super Bowl, the last yearly “communal event” on the American calendar which is not an official national holiday. It is sure to produce the largest television audience of the year for a scheduled event.
There has never been an NFL season where the president of the United States has played a larger role than this one (even when Richard Nixon was trying to call plays for the Washington Redskins). Some believe that the TV ratings decline the league has suffered this year is largely because of President Donald Trump’s crusade against some players refusing to stand for the National Anthem.
The two teams playing in the game, the Patriots and the Eagles, are represented with by far the most pro-America symbols in the NFL. Trump is even very friendly with the Patriots owner, coach, and star player. The most rabid Eagles fans, residing in the state which essentially won Trump the election, tend to also be big Trump supporters (having grown up a huge Eagles fan, I personally know at least one Trump-supporting Eagles fanatic who — after having sworn off the NFL earlier this year — is now, without even blushing, constantly texting photos of himself and his son proudly preparing to attend Sunday’s championship game).
So, tomorrow will see a massive television event, based on a subject Trump has discussed endlessly, involving two entities for whom he has lots of affection. And yet apparently Trump will be not be part of the big show in any significant way.
Unlike the college football national championship game which Trump attended, and for which he went on the field for the National Anthem, the president will not be at the Super Bowl. Even more telling, Trump is blatantly ducking (though it isn’t getting nearly the attention it deserves) the traditional sit-down interview with the news outlet of the network which is carrying the game, NBC.
At last year’s Super Bowl, Trump was safely interviewed by his “milkshake” buddy Bill O’Reilly from Fox News (it is astonishing to think that just a year ago: O’Reilly was the biggest star in cable news, and the idea that neither Matt Lauer nor Bob Costas would be part of NBC’s Super Bowl coverage in 2018 was ludicrous). But Trump has now effectively ended any exposure to questions from media outlets and personalities that are not overtly invested in protecting him.
This has created the bizarre spectacle of Trump having given an interview during the week of the Super Bowl to foreign personality Piers Morgan, a Trump sycophant, but not to NBC which was offering him a pre-game audience at least as large as his State of the Union address. It is almost like he is taking a knee during the National Anthem!
Sadly, it’s not a real surprise that Trump would chicken out of participating in the Super Bowl. After all, his call to boycott the league will be shown tomorrow to have been almost entirely ineffective, and like most bullies, Trump does not like to come face-to-face with those he has attacked.
Even more threateningly, he can’t do an interview with NBC because he knows he would cause himself massive problems. There are just simply too many questions for which he can’t possibly provide a proper answer — for instance, how he can be so upset about the “Nunes Memo” when the target of the FISA warrant in question, Carter Page, was a FORMER campaign aide whom he and his team have claimed they didn’t even know?
As proof, just check out the disaster that occurred the last time Trump did a major sit-down interview with NBC (almost a year ago!). A strong argument can be made that Trump effectively admitted having obstructing justice by telling Lester Holt, in direct contradiction of his own Justice Department’s release, that he had fired FBI Director James Comey over his handling of the Russia investigation.
The significance of Trump wimping out of the NBC Super Bowl interview goes far beyond the fact that we have a president who is clearly, and rightly, terrified to answer substantive questions from a non-supportive outlet. It is also representative of the general death of the real news interview.
Because there are now so many different outlets seeking interviews with newsmakers, someone like Trump has no need to submit himself to difficult questions. He can spew whatever he wants unedited to his fans on Twitter, and there will always be a TV personality willing to give up whatever journalistic credibility they might have had in exchange for the cheers and ratings provided by Trump’s “Cult 45.”
Think about it this way, if Trump can bail out on NBC for a Super Bowl interview when all of the circumstances are perfectly aligned to appeal to him on numerous levels, and not even have it be a significant story, then when will he ever sit down with them — or any other remotely potent news organization — ever again?
The answer is probably “never,” and that says a whole lot about who Trump really is and why the mainstream news media is basically powerless in their far-too-belated attempts to expose him.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.