Monday, June 06, 2016


In his column today, New York Times media critic Jim Rutenberg confirms our suspicion that the press lavished softball coverage on Donald Trump throughout the primaries out of a deep admiration for Trump's ability to generate profitable content -- a sense of admiration Rutenberg shares:
Mr. Trump is not running a campaign in the modern sense -- or what was the modern sense until about yesterday. Rather, he oversees a prolific content production studio that has accomplished what every major media conglomerate is trying to pull off with mixed success.

It has managed to produce a huge amount of inexpensive programming that has consistently dominated the ratings and the conversation across the entire new-media landscape -- cable news, broadcast news, radio, Twitter, Facebook and who knows what else.

With Mr. Trump as its star, show runner and chief content officer, the operation has taken over the vast media space with multiple running plotlines (War With Megyn Kelly; Peace With Megyn Kelly!), shocking comments (A federal judge can’t be fair to me because he’s of Mexican heritage!) and personal insults (Hillary belongs in jail; that reporter is a sleaze!) that keep Americans glued to their screens.

These plotlines often lead to negative portrayals of Mr. Trump. And the Trumpian content can at times be contradictory or even counterfactual, as in false. But Trump Productions appears to be operating on the premise that as long as the conversation is all about Mr. Trump, he is winning. Content is not only king, it is kingmaker, too.
Rutenberg's admiration is palpable.

Now, none of this would have worked if Trump weren't saying what a lot of angry white voters want to hear, but the media let him broadcast it all the way he wanted to -- repeated phone-in interviews, full speeches aired without commentary -- because everyone in the news media is anxious about falling revenues and Trump has figured out how to make news profitable. He may be a know-nothing and a fascist, but he will grab those eyeballs, and all that matters, right?

Rutenberg seems to think Democrats should tremble before Trump's mighty power.
Given his against-the-odds success so far, political strategists from both parties are wondering whether the Trump approach represents the future of political media -- and, if so, does Hillary Clinton need to transform her traditional (and relatively press-averse) campaign into a rival studio pumping out its own voluminous counterprogramming?

“She is fighting a conventional war and he is fighting an asymmetrical war, and I don’t think that bodes well for her,” said Terry Sullivan, a Republican strategist. Mr. Sullivan has a unique perspective on the question, as the former manager of Senator Marco Rubio’s vanquished presidential campaign.

Mr. Sullivan; the former Rubio communications adviser Alex Conant; and a lawyer for Mr. Rubio, Will Holley, had reached out to me to discuss their new consulting firm, Firehouse Strategies. It’s based on the premise that Mr. Trump has rewritten the rules of modern communications strategy, and candidates and corporations need to take heed.

The primary lesson: “The solution is always more content, not less,” Mr. Sullivan said.
Um, Hillary Clinton is going to be declared the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee in about 36 hours, and she's led Trump in all but a tiny handful of head-to-head polls. She's not following Trump's template. And Bernie Sanders, while he won't win the Democratic nomination, has captivated a large part of the Democratic electorate without ginning up gossip-rag controversies or attacking minority groups (and while getting a fraction of Trump and Clinton's free-media coverage for much of campaign season) -- and while he might have a hard time withstanding a billion dollars' worth of Republican attacks in a general election, for now he has a huge lead over Trump in virtually every poll.

So please, Jim, stop confusing Trump's mastery of your industry with a mastery of politics -- and don't forget that even a mastery of politics isn't a values-neutral thing if the master is an ignorant, vindictive hatemonger and demagogue.


petrilli said...

So please, Jim, stop confusing Trump's mastery of your industry with a mastery of politics --
That statement puts the incestuous thinking that infects most elite journalism into stark relief.

Professor Fate said...

it has also helped Trump that elite journalism is about as spineless and corrupt as Trump thinks it is.

Yastreblyansky said...

Wonderful. I was struck by how what Rutenberg means by "content" is precisely opposed to what we mean. We say the Trump campaign has no content because he doesn't have any real policy concepts, but what he does have, trash talk for drama and poll numbers for suspense, is exactly what TV producers mean mby "content", i.e. the stuff you need to get people to watch your ads, so to Rutenberg in the Trump campaign "content is king".

Jim Snyder said...

"There is no truth in [Nova] Pravda", it's "All the Sh*t that Fits We Print".

Brad DeLong quotes Nate Silver in re his interactions with Jim Rutenberg:

When did Nova Pravda go wrong, and why?

When they decided that their meal ticket was nouveau riche pr0n?

(So not Nova Pravda ... Nova Prada...)

Pupienus Maximus said...

So please, Jim, stop confusing Trump's mastery of your industry with a mastery of politics

Ummm, it might be time to consider whether there's a distinction to be made. The arcs of the media and of politics have long been converging. Not a good thing but that's where we are.