"I think Easter Sunday and you'll have packed churches all over our country, I think it would be a beautiful time.” -- Donald Trump, March 24, when asked when he thought America would return to normalcy.
"I mean, obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives… But there was a lot of push back about shutting things down back then." -- Dr. Anthony Fauci, responding to questions from Jake Tapper, on Easter Sunday
One of the recurrent narratives about Donald Trump is that he is supposedly a brilliant marketer.
I find this characterization a deep personal affront, because I actually made my living in marketing, and I can assure you of this: what he is doing is not marketing.
If the Ford Motor Company announced that its Ford F-150 truck now can travel 14,382 miles on a gallon of gas and can tow Yankee Stadium up the Matterhorn, nobody would call that brilliant marketing. They would call it for what it is: egregious, bold-faced lying.
Indeed, truly skilled marketers would actually call it stupid marketing, because the only thing such an advertising claim would ensure is that anyone who bought a Ford truck with the expectation of such fuel economy and power would be acutely disappointed, would go online and write a scathing review that would be shared by 160 million people on Instagram and Ford would never sell a vehicle again.
It is an obscene truth, but just so much old news: the makers of pick-up trucks have higher standards in their communications that does the President of the United States. Yeah, Trump lies. So what?
Well, so what is when the lies kill people.
Yesterday afternoon in the White House Press Room, Donald Trump attempted to “market” his side of the story of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, and it was one of the most shameful episodes in an administration that has long since shorn our nation of its dignity. Trump used taxpayer money to have his White House staff make a comically one-sided campaign-style video defending his role in the spread of the disease, and used a supposed official government briefing about a grave national emergency to ensure that his marketing message received maximum coverage.
CNN and MSNBC did, to their credit, cut away from the broadcast when the marketing video was aired, and afterward, CNN began superimposing extremely pointed titles over Trump even as he spoke:
“Trump uses task force briefing to try to rewrite history of the Coronavirus.”
“Angry Trump turns briefing into a propaganda session.”
“Trump melts down in angry response to reports that he ignored virus warnings.”
“Angry Trump uses propaganda video produced by government employees at taxpayers’ expense.”
“Trump refuses to acknowledge any mistakes.”
Good for you, CNN, to attempt to provide some editorial commentary in real time even as Donald Trump continued his rampage of projectile, weaponized fecal matter. Indeed, CNN has been "picking and choosing" for several days, cutting off Trump's live coverage last week when he went off on a tangent about his border wall.
But superimposed captions and occasional cut-aways are not enough. It is time to cut him off.
It is time to stop giving Trump this free podium. It is time for CNN to take much more aggressive measures to ensure that its platform is not being perverted by the President in a way that endangers the lives of citizens and is not being manipulated into unpaid campaign media for Trump’s re-election.
Enough is enough.
It all goes back to Trump’s utterly perverted notion of what “marketing” is.
Those who espouse the “Trump is a brilliant marketer” theory are the same people who think that “all press is good press,” and that the most important thing an advertisement can do is command attention and “generate buzz.” This is the logic that leads third-tier burger chains to hire to buxom, scantily clad women as their spokespersons in cheesy, insulting, sophomoric, and degrading television commercials.
It is pretty much this same logic that leads Donald Trump to utter utter falsehoods, knowing that speculating about Barack Obama’s birthplace or that Mexicans are rapists will thrill his followers and have an incendiary impact on the liberal media, resulting in more attention than any bikini-clad burger lady could muster. By this measure – making stunningly outlandish, disgraceful, baseless assertions simply to attract out-sized attention – Trump has truly unparalleled gall.
What makes Trump truly unique, however, is his conviction that it is not enough to simply deny an accusation, dodge responsibility, or present a different opinion. His instinct is to immediately argue that an extreme opposite is actually the truth.
He is not a racist; he is the “least racist person you will ever meet.“ He did not abuse his power with his Ukrainian quid pro quo; his was a “perfect” phone call. The FBI is not an objective investigative unit of government, it is part of the “deep state” that is committed to undo the 2016 election. Reporters are not human beings doing their jobs, they are “fake news,” “disgraceful” liars who are on a mission to destroy his presidency. Career diplomats with independent perspectives are “biased holdovers from the Obama administration.”
And, yes, this primal impulse was in full operation last night. Trump did not make a single mistake in his handling of the coronavirus. To hear Trump last night, his handling of this tragedy has been flawless.
Trump is not content with the existence of a difference of opinion. He seeks to destroy the source of an attack by projecting his own failures onto it. You accuse me of that? Well I accuse you of the exact same thing, only worse! That is not marketing. More like the perverted mind of a serial killer coiled in the darkness waiting to slit the throat of any threatening fact that dares cross his path.
There actually is one thing that Donald Trump has figured out, and that is why today’s appeal to CNN and MSNBC is so urgent.
Trump has learned how to manipulate the fractured, polarized media landscape like nobody in history. He has now mastered two huge media channels – Twitter and Fox News -- and it is his unfettered access to and command of these channels that gives him a fighting chance in the 2020 election.
While Twitter and Fox News pre-existed Trump, he has exploited the raw power of each like no predecessor imagined. Both afford him the ability to get the exact message he wants out into the world, unfiltered by the vetting process of a responsible news organization. This is new: for the history of our republic, Presidents have been largely been forced to communicate with the American public through news organizations. In our long history, many of the newspapers that covered our politicians had strong political leanings and biases. But most sought to be to be viewed as independent entities with journalistic standards. Fox created a business model in which increased viewership and profitability was achieved by offering a version of the news designed to mirror, coddle, placate, and reinforce the beliefs of a specific audience segment. Twitter cut out the news middle man completely, enabling Trump to tell his faithful his version of the universe without even the occasional interruption for a word about treatments for irritable bowel syndrome.
Now, Donald Trump has discovered a third channel, and it has the potential to be the most powerful of all: his daily COVID-19 Task Force press briefings from the White House… when they are broadcast on CNN and MSNBC.
The COVID-19 Task Force briefings give Trump the opportunity to take his unfiltered messaging onto the responsible journalistic platforms of MSNBC and CNN. Yep, it is a wet dream for a President who is addicted to the mass audience of a stadium show, who loves nothing more than an unchallenged shot at his enemies, and who gets to position himself as the man brilliantly managing the crisis of our times.
Donald Trump is using the COVID-19 Task Force briefings as an opportunity to try to rewrite the history of the pandemic, to claim that his team is doing an “amazing” job, indeed, such a great job that Trump’s team engenders the envy of other countries. Trump uses his COVID-19 briefings to offer optimistic assessments of the pandemic’s trajectory, and – most importantly – to openly dispute the findings and opinions of medical professionals, and to contradict their advice and that of the CDC.
Last night, Trump tried to frame the entire discussion of his handling of COVID-19 around a single issue: that he ordered a "ban" in January on travel from China before there had been a single death from the coronavirus in the United States. This perspective allowed him to take a self-pitying, persecuted view; a sense of "what more could anyone have expected me to do?"
Yes, Donald Trump is turning his daily briefings into MAGA rallies that are being broadcast throughout America by – wait for it – CNN and MSNBC. It is the Make America Sick Again tour from the White House, paid for by your tax dollars and broadcast on every news network on television.
I sure understand why Trump wants his hour on national television every night. More than a wall that never got built and that Mexico never paid for, more than attempting to repeal and replace Obamacare, more than abandoning the Paris Climate Accords or the Iran nuclear deal, more than Charlottesville, shithole countries, and fake news, more than being the only elected President ever impeached in his first term in office, COVID-19 is becoming the defining legacy of Donald Trump, and the fulcrum on which his re-election now rests.
And he knows it.
On what will very likely be the single issue on which the 2020 election turns, Donald Trump has grasped that he can’t rely on outsourcing his propaganda to Fox News. Donald Trump knows that on this one, only he has the weapons-grade moral bankruptcy it takes to make the death toll a selling point.
Moreover, the current state rules against large gatherings deny Trump the MAGA rallies that pump him up and enable him to attain simultaneous orgasm with his dim-witted followers. The daily COVID task force briefings give him an even more powerful microphone.
Yes, that is what Donald Trump is trying to do. This is his exact quote, commenting on a U.K. study that projected how many Americans might die if absolutely no measures were taken – no social distancing, no masks, no closures of business, schools, or venues:
“You’re talking about 2.2 million deaths, so if we can hold that down, as we’re saying, to 100,000, it’s a horrible number, maybe even less, but to 100,000, so we have between 100,000 and 200,000, we altogether have done a very good job.”
Yes, there you have it. Donald Trump is trying to say that the fact that 100,000 Americans may die is proof of what a great job he did. That is, it was brilliant of him to decide not to not do anything.
This is the kind of acid reflux that gets burped up from Donald Trump’s esophagus and extruded via CNN microphones out to a fearful public, starved for information. The purpose for the COVID-19 Task Force briefings is to inform American citizens… about the status of the pandemic, to provide vital information about how to avoid contagion and what Americans should do if they become infected, and to answer questions from the press corps about the actions being taken by the government.
Instead of talking about the here and the now, last night Donald Trump used the first 45 minutes on this platform for emergency communication to weave a completely altered retrospective narrative about what a great job he has done since the very first days of the pandemic. The most disgraceful moment was his slick video, in which his White House henchmen handpicked the few brief moments in which Trump made appropriate statements about the pandemic, and conveniently omitted the literally dozens of clips of Trump claiming that the virus was small, not significant, becoming less of a problem, that he had it “under control,” and that it would magically go away.
Hey, CNN: there’s an irony here. You hold yourself to a high journalistic standard that your own reporters must have reliable sources, factual grounding for your reporting, and must clearly separate out news from opinion.
And yet you are allowing Donald Trump to broadcast over your network on a nightly basis without making the slightest demand for accuracy, factual grounding, reliable sources, and delineating fact from opinion. You are enabling his manipulation of the media. You are becoming Twitter, allowing Trump to put forward his version of reality, unvarnished and unfettered, directly to the American people.
Now, if Trump was conducting daily White House press briefings to handle ordinary business -- saying that Mexicans were rapists, or that Obama was born in Kenya, or that your own journalists were vengeful third rate hacks with an agenda – you probably would not bother with a live feed over your network.
But because the COVID-19 Task Force briefings are supposed to be vital opportunities for citizens to hear news about a tragedy that is having a nearly universal impact on Americans, you are giving Trump carte blanche to broadcast on your network.
Hey, CNN: there are lives at stake. The lies, misleading comments, and omissions made by Donald Trump are undoubtedly costing American lives.
Precisely because American lives are at stake, don’t you have a higher mission to answer to?
Don’t you have the right to say that you are not going to broadcast flawed, deceitful, misleading, or dangerous information when it comes to the health of American citizens?
Don’t tell me you don’t have options.
So you feel that it is vital that Americans hear what Dr. Fauci has to say? Great: create a thirty minute edited version of Fauci’s remarks and broadcast it as soon as possible after the White House briefing.
So you think Americans should hear the President in his own words? Fine: air a tape-delayed broadcast of his comments, but cut to your own commentators whenever he says something that is deceitful, misleading, or dangerous to the health of the American people.
Last night, CNN and MSNBC did actually cut away from the daily COVID-19 Task Force briefing when Trump aired his propaganda video. They get it. They know they have the right to make an editorial judgment to cut him off.
After last night, they should know that they cannot give this man a free microphone.
Perhaps CNN is reluctant to take the more dramatic step of not broadcasting the daily press briefing for fear of reprisals from the White House. Like what? Having Trump berate and demean your reporters on your own network? Sorry, he’s already doing that. You are just giving him a platform to insult you.
The best reason anyone has offered for having CNN broadcast the Daily Donald Trump Bullshit Hour is that it may actually be damaging his approval rating. People get to see just how unhinged this man actually is. Well, worry not -- Fox News will continue to cover this spectacle... and those are the viewers who need to see that Dear Leader has a problem with reality.
Indeed, some at CNN might say that if they do not broadcast the show, that their viewers would tune in to Fox, where they would only hear Fox’s own worshipful commentary.
Hey, CNN and MSNBC, it’s a world of trade-offs. Some people might do that.
Then again, there are people like me, who used to religiously watch your 5:00 and 6:00 segments.
Now I don’t.
Now I pick up my guitar and work on that cool riff at the opening of Scandal’s “Good Bye to You.”
I don’t need to waste my time listening to Donald Trump’s lies. And I can read Fauci’s truths somewhere else.
I wonder how many people there are like me who are discouraged that you are enabling this President, and that you don’t have the balls to treat him like you’d treat any other cult figure whose wild ravings represent a real threat to the health and safety of Americans. Or like you'd treat one of your own reporters if they were to go rogue and file stories packed with lies.
No, Donald Trump is no brilliant marketer.
But you know what? Right now, CNN, you’re not being a responsible news organization, either.
Cut him off, CNN.
Or at the very least, report on him in real time. Don’t just hand him a microphone and let him roam free on your airwaves. Cut into it, challenge it, fact check it in real time every single time he goes rogue with reality.
Your job is not to give unfettered access to liars.
Your job is truth.
Get rid of anything that prevents you from accomplishing that mission.
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I'm not certain telling a news organization what its news judgment ought to be is particularly persuasive.ReplyDelete
The standard arguments of "show what is going on" versus "show the truth" versus "don't give a platform for deceit" rotate through, and I am fairly certain news organizations consider the balance between them on almost every segment they broadcast.
With the chyron descriptions "framing" the Trump show and tell, a few things happen:
* the organization avoids taking the role of "censor" by ignoring what clearly is a central element to the largest story of the day.
* the organization is showing people what is going on WITHOUT abandoning a sense of journalistic truth.
* the organization gets a fair amount of credit for the "novel" element of the chyrons, and those images bounce around on social media, highlighting the stance of "show, but provide context" which will likely attract viewers in the longer term.
If something more important were going on at the time of the press briefing, I'd bet CNN would cut away.
I only wish there would be some bracketing to talk about Trump's actual ratings, with starting numbers, those who abandon the program in mid-stream, and final numbers. Covering the "ratings," as Trump wants to boast about, would be a further touch of "reality" to ground the program.