Monday, March 21, 2016


Jim Rutenberg is the new media columnist at The New York Times, a position formerly held by the late David Carr. I'm seeing a lot of praise for Rutenberg's first column, even though it's a rehash of discussions we've been having for months.

You can tell there's not much new here just from the title of the column: "The Mutual Dependence of Donald Trump and the News Media." Yes, this again: Trump is the press's fault.
The imbalance in coverage has ... led to spectacles like the one on March 8, when all of the cable news networks showed Mr. Trump’s 45-minute-long primary night news conference in full. While Mrs. Clinton’s victory speech went uncovered, Mr. Trump used the time to hawk Trump Steaks and Trump Wine. That was new.

One imagines that if CBS and ABC had 24-hour news channels, they would have gone along for the embarrassing ride, too.
I'm somewhat sympathetic to this argument -- Trump is on TV way too much for my taste. But I do hate-watch him sometimes, so I suppose I'm part of the problem. (Eventually, I guarantee you, the rise of Trump is going to be blamed on hip urbane hate-watchers like me.)

Here's the problem: When you blame the media for covering Trump too much, you're acting as if that automatically guaranteed him votes. Starting from his campaign announcement, he was a major-party candidate, and so he deserved some coverage -- and then when he shot to the top of the polls, it was understandable that he got more coverage. But nobody forced voters to like what they were hearing. When you blame the press, you exonerate those voters. They couldn't help it! They were force-fed Trump!

No, they weren't. Every time he was on TV, they watched him because he's the kind of candidate they like.
Understandably, Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN Worldwide, was beaming when I saw him at a lunch with other reporters last week. “These numbers are crazy -- crazy,” he said, referring to the ratings. How crazy? Two-hundred-thousand-dollars-per-30-second-spot crazy on debate nights, 40 times what CNN makes on an average night, according to Advertising Age. That’s found money.

It certainly has to take the sting out of the criticism that CNN has handed its schedule over to Mr. Trump.
But Rutenberg takes this a step further. Trump is the media's fault rather than GOP voters' fault, and the media is innocent because it's hard out there for a non-Fox news outlet:
[Trump is] taking advantage of a momentous and insecure time in American media.

News organizations old and new are jockeying for survival in a changing order, awash in information and content but absent the pillars they could always rely upon, like reliable advertising models, secure places on the cable dial or old-fashioned newsstand sales.... Things are changing so fast that no news organization knows whether the assumptions it’s making to secure its future will prove correct.

In that environment, Mr. Trump brings a welcome, if temporary, salve. He delivers ratings and clicks, and therefore revenue, which makes him the seller in a seller’s market.

... he is using his ratings power to push the news media to break from its mission of holding the powerful, or really just him, accountable. In other words, to loosen its standards.
So Trump's rise isn't the media's fault, really, because the media is just desperate. The media is drowning, and Trump is a life preserver.

So no one is really at fault. Rutenberg's fellow journalists are just doing what they have to do to survive. And voters are incapable of rejecting what they see and hear.

I disagree. Yes, the media should reduce the Trump coverage -- maybe we should start boycotting advertisers? -- but he's on all the time because he's popular. And why is he popular? Because Republican voters are angry rageoholics. The media is giving them what they want. But why do they want it?


O’Hollern said...

The media isn't responsible for Trump, but the constant coverage is legitimizing him. I will blame them for that.

easttexan said...

Before Fox News, before MSNBC, before CNN and HLN, the networks and PBS were the sole purveyors of national news. Back then, the news divisions of the networks were considered loss leaders; they weren't expected to 'draw ratings' or 'sell ads'. They were considered a national service to keep the general public informed.

But, go for the money and ratings, throw in some (usually mean-spirited) entertainment and opinion, a few Springeresque shoutfests, lace the news with 'what our target audience WANTS to hear' instead of 'and that's the way it is', and you have today's version of journalism.

What would Uncle Walter think of us now?

retiredeng said...

"But why do they want it?"

This is the elephant in the room. The news media will not get to the heart of the problem. Trump is waxing the GOP's short and curlies because the GOP has been fleecing the base voters for a generation and (as Charlie Pierce puts it) the chickens are running out of roosts.

Ten Bears said...

Bread and circuses, eng, the Ambien, Prozac, Viagra and crotch-shots on Fox Kool-Aid. Pitched to the forty-seven percent of "Americans" incapable of reading and following the directions necessary to successfully fill out a job application: the functionally illiterate; sprawled drooling Pavlovianly across a "couch" the backseat out of a nineteen and seventy-one Chevy Suburban.

Ward Churchill had something to say about roosting chickens as well.

retiredeng said...

The Romans paid for the Bread and Circus mostly with the spoils of war. But taxes too were part of the revenue. As long as the rabble was appeased by the patrician class. The GOP forgot to feed the savage beast and now it's about to feast on their very flesh.

retiredeng said...

P.S. I forgot to mention that the bread is the part the current rabble is pissed about not getting any of.

Feud Turgidson said...

First, I miss Carr's punchy writing and his almost invariably provocative appearances.
But Carr's dead, and buried.

AS ALWAYS, when someone we find unique or outsized but in any event culturally irresistible - Marilyn Monroe, or dammit Drumpf himself to a lot of folks - does a banana peel slip-n-fall off this mortal coil on the upcurve, it's damn near impossible for the next schmuck. Who beats a ghost?
Plus, arguably chief, unarguably way up high among Carr's attractions was that he himself as a weirdly attractive personality, plus what he did on camera and in print was a lot more like what biters of the Big Apple had long come to expect from the more sophisticated, urbane, catty and simultaneously self-deprecating while cutting columnists at The Village Voice and Vanity Fair, except more restrained by the deeply mockable yet hilariously ubiquitous NYT writing standards -- because, Good heavens and asterisk the naughty parts, he was at The Times, not some fucking asswipe serving up greasy slop to the rubes just off the bus from Pennsyltucky.

Secondly, once you get past something that's been apparent about him for years, which is that he's no James Joyce, but instead he's actually highly effective at using The Times form something like how a magician uses dry ice, Rutenberg is an acute observor, he has a reliable instinct for getting right to the essence of things, and he's pretty much as bold and cutting in his way as was Carr, excpet the bites are bigger.

Remember his long piece early in 2008 on McCain's penchant for fingering the charmin' on the Straight Talk Express? And do you remember how that internally played in the background as we all watched McCain standing behind Palin leering at her caboose during his never-to-be-foregiven introduction of that honey of a boo-boob that's helped pave the way for Drumpf?

So what I see here is Steve M. saying, Hey, I was ON to this, I GOT this, long back; for The Times to make a big frou-frou over this thru their new manufactured 'star' MUST connote an an angle, Rutenbeg just HAS to be the tool of that awful upperclass twit of the millennium who publishes TNYT.

Well, okay: but he's still got it right. The image that's going to stick on me and make by skin crawl from this piece is that slimy schmuckburger Zucker's gigantic Drumpfboner over the 40x revenue draw. Drumpf is like when carney food outlets found out the effects of sending fried onion smells down a midway.

Zucker, Moonves, none of them can give Drumpf up - they answer to egoistic boards and to rich entitled pushy shareholders, and since this is about money, it's personal.