ChrisWeigant.com

Distracted Reporting

[ Posted Monday, August 28th, 2017 – 16:31 UTC ]

On Friday, President Donald Trump attempted a trick many previous U.S. presidents have used to good effect, and so far at least it seems to be working out for Trump quite well. The trick is to get sensitive news out late on a Friday, in the hopes that the American public (and the press) will be so distracted by the weekend that the story will have much less impact than it normally would have. Really bad news is usually released right before a three-day holiday weekend, so it'll have even less reach and an even-smaller impact. Trump took this to another level last Friday, by releasing some contentious news right in the midst of the biggest hurricane to hit the U.S. in over a decade.

So far, as I said, it appears to be working just fine for Trump. The media has been so consumed with reporting on the ongoing Harvey disaster that they have had little time or energy to focus on much of anything else. In the meantime, though, a lot has been going on.

Consider all that has happened since Hurricane Harvey made landfall. The initial White House announcements intended to be buried by the storm reporting were led off by the first Trump presidential pardon, given to a man convicted of ignoring a federal court's instructions to respect people's constitutional rights as sheriff. Not all people, mind you, just Latinos. If Harvey had not happened, this would be the biggest news story around, and would be tied in to Trump's attitudes on race in general. Since the news broke during the storm, though, it has been no more than a footnote ever since. Mission accomplished, as the White House might say.

On the same day, Trump advisor Sebastian Gorka was unceremoniously shown the White House door, which wasn't too surprising since he was an acolyte of Steve Bannon. This is more proof that General John Kelly is taking charge of the White House staff in a way that Reince Priebus never did, and will further shift power away from what might be called the alt-right faction within Trump's White House.

Also on Friday came the news that the White House had made Trump's transgender military ban a reality, by issuing an official letter spelling out how the new policy should work. Previous to this point, the idea had been nothing more than a pair of early-morning tweets from the Tweeter-in-Chief. The Pentagon refused to do anything about these tweets, instead demanding more substantial policy guidance, and last Friday, they got it. Again, this should have been a major story, but it got all but swept away by the storm.

Over the weekend, much other political news was made, which for the most part was not adequately reported on. There were major demonstrations and counterprotests in San Francisco and Berkeley, but these got nowhere near the attention the protests in Boston did last week. Trump's own cabinet members and top advisors are beginning to repudiate Trump's stance on Charlottesville, which in normal times would be a firing offense (for most any president). Also, Trump announced the reversal of a policy Barack Obama instituted, which will now allow surplus military equipment to be sold to police departments once again.

In international news, the town of Tal Afar was retaken by Iraqi forces, further shrinking the Islamic State footprint in that country. Only two remaining Islamic State areas of control remain in the country, one surrounding Hawija and one on the border with Syria. North Korea, meanwhile, continues to launch missiles and just sent one over Japan. Remember the breathless reporting from a few weeks ago over each and every North Korean missile launch? This weekend's launches will doubtlessly get significantly less media coverage in America.

Today, we've got new revelations about the Trump campaign and the Trump business organization dealing with the highest levels in Moscow, right up to when the primary season started in 2016. The media may continually get distracted by every Trump tweet in sight, but obviously the F.B.I. and Special Counsel Bob Mueller are staying focused, behind the scenes.

Also today, Washington will see a "1,000 Ministers' March For Justice," organized by Reverend Al Sharpton, which is intended to be a strong moral rebuke to President Trump. This march was long planned to take place on the anniversary of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have A Dream" speech, but after Trump's inadequate reaction to Charlottesville, it couldn't be more timely. In normal (non-hurricane) times the media usually marks this anniversary even without a moral protest march against the president by over a thousand religious leaders from all faiths.

That's all a lot of news since Friday, you've got to admit. Each one of these stories would, in quieter times, dominate headlines and television news for days. But in the middle of a hurricane and flooding disaster, they are barely mentioned.

The media loves "big stories," and a monster hurricane is the biggest of the big. There's always a chance, after all, that the media will all have front seats to a human disaster story right after the natural disaster story. To put this another way, the media are more than ready to report on another Hurricane Katrina fiasco, should one develop.

So far, this hasn't happened in any large way. So the media has to be content with filling up the minutes and the column inches with as many personal and heartwrenching stories as they can, lightly seasoned with fresh "boy, that guy in the truck trying to drive through 12-foot-high water is an idiot" film, if they've got any.

The media's storm reporting has left a lot to be desired, this time around. When the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency or an official from the Homeland Security Department appears on television, somehow the reporters never get an answer (if the question is even asked, that is) about how the White House budget proposal would slash the funding for their agencies. The officials want to talk about what's going on, and not whether gutting their budgets might lead to a much different (and more inadequate) response to future disasters. The reporter's job is to connect these dots, and make the point that if government agencies are critical right now in the middle of a disaster, then they will be equally critical during future disasters, but with far less money -- but that point never seems to get made, somehow.

Now, I don't want to appear too callous, and I do realize that disasters of this widespread scale are indeed the most newsworthy thing around when they happen. People in Texas are hurting, and they will be hurting for a while -- just as people in New Jersey endured with Superstorm Sandy, and just as the survivors of any hurricane or other natural disaster have to cope with. It's an enormous human interest story, which is why it dominates the airwaves and the headlines for days on end. That's all perfectly understandable and reasonable.

But dominating the news is one thing, and "completely pre-empting any and all other news" is another. Normally, when a big natural disaster hits, politics takes a back seat, from the president on down. The political world becomes focused on responding to the disaster and attempting to make the system better for when future disasters strike.

That's not exactly happening now, although it still might once Congress returns to do its business. Instead, we've got a president who is actively using the media's distraction with the hurricane to bury what would normally be very important political stories. Team Trump knew full well the level of distraction the hurricane would cause in the news, and they decided to exploit this fact to their advantage. Conservatives used to loudly complain about a quote from Rahm Emanuel: "You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." Trump doesn't complain, he emulates.

Admittedly, though, my complaint is less with the Trump White House and more with the media itself. Some of the news that got buried this weekend came directly from the White House, but a lot of it did not. It didn't matter to the media, though, because all of it was perhaps not ignored but definitely reported with a much lower profile than it would have had, absent the storm.

The media has a literal field day when they get to report on disasters' aftermath. They get to break out the hip-waders, stand on beaches in hurricane-force winds, shove cameras in the faces of devastated crying people, and (nowadays) also get to use drones to get dramatic aerial footage for the viewers at home. Plus all those "guy in the flooded truck" videos, for comedic relief. Sure beats sitting in a studio somewhere parsing what Trump's first pardon means to the Constitution and to the rule of law, doesn't it?

-- Chris Weigant

 

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

42 Comments on “Distracted Reporting”

  1. [1] 
    TheStig wrote:

    A government shutdown post hurricane would be a bit "unseemly." Some new
    Trump cards come into play, some others may have to be discarded. I don't think the full impact has sunk in, or evened been assessed yet.

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, the media (not ALL the media, you understand) is missing the biggest story of all.

    I'd like to see a journalist ask Secretary Perry if he believes in the disastrous effects of climate change now or is he still in denial.

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    What is Secretary Perry up to, anyway. I'd like a journalist to delve into that.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    And that goes for the EPA guy, too!

  5. [5] 
    John M wrote:

    There's also the question of whether all those Texas Republicans who in fact voted against the aid package for the victims in New York and New Jersey of Superstorm Sandy in 2012, realize the irony of their hypocrisy when they start demanding aid for Texas victims of Hurricane Harvey without demanding corresponding offset cuts in Federal spending elsewhere, etc.

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Just another example among countless examples
    of Democrats standing on the right side of history and not capitalizing on it.

    Capitalization through fact-based persuasion. What is so damned hard about that!?

  7. [7] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    Capitalization through fact-based persuasion. What is so damned hard about that!?

    Fact-based persuasion??? Do you mean by threatening to withhold aid?

    How, exactly, can they do that without becoming what they hate?

  8. [8] 
    neilm wrote:

    45 might find another piece of news to hide behind the hurricane is the Q3 growth numbers.

    Q1 and Q2 were anemic at best, and the auto industry is hurting in Q3. My mortgage broker called today for a friendly chat and I asked him how business was going and he told me the next recession is starting - it happens with a weakening housing market first.

    As usual, forecasting the economy is a fool's game, however if the Q3 numbers are weak, expect to hear about the "Harvey effect" from the White House.

  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Russ[7],

    What?

    Okay, that was funny.

    That is what you get when you read a comment or two or three and, then take a quote, of mine, out of context.

    Try again!

    Oh, that was really funny.

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Not everything has to do with money, you know. Geesh.

  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I thought that was such a good phrase, too ... capitalization through fact-based persuasion ... suitable for every conceivable occasion, even ... a motto for the new Democratic strategy for winning, everything.

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Oh, well ... what time is it!?

  13. [13] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Actually, distracted reporting is a great phrase!

  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Maybe I should take up twitter? :)

  15. [15] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I used to be non-brief ...

  16. [16] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    I read all of the comments with this article and I do not get what you are trying to say by that phrase. I apologize if it is obvious to everyone else, but I do not see how you expect Dems to use "fact-based persuasion" when the truth doesn't matter to people.

  17. [17] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    And let's not forget the inevitable articles about how the media is obsessed with the storm and ignoring other news that include all sorts of references to other news while continuing to leave out the most important news of all- my petition to get Ralph Nader to address the One Demand campaign financing approach. :D

    If it wasn't the storm being used as a distraction it would be something else. What is the media's excuse the rest of the year?

    The "distracted reporting" is nothing new. The media is just following the same directions they always follow:
    Lather, rinse, repeat.

    "Distracting reporting" is a much more accurate term because it happens every day of the year every year. If there isn't a ready made distraction like Harvey or Trump's latest tweet they invent or recycle one.

  18. [18] 
    TheStig wrote:

    "The media has a literal field day when they get to report on disasters' aftermath. They get to break out the hip-waders, stand on beaches in hurricane-force winds, shove cameras in the faces of devastated crying people, and (nowadays) also get to use drones to get dramatic aerial footage for the viewers at home."

    I don't think the public is getting representative footage from the electronic media, who are not typically "field people" with the equipment vehicles and training to get into and get around in a disaster area. The real story has little to do with the beaches or the cities, it's about the vast inland flood plain, and it's about rain not wind. The overall situation is still probably getting worse, not better. A lot of residents who find themselves in the flood plains are basically marooned and unaccounted for. These are the Magic marker people, the ones who were told to write their Social Security numbers on their arms. Social Media are helpful, but you have to be able charge the devices.

    Katrina killed somewhere around 1800 people. I would be surprised if Harvey doesn't meet or exceed this.

    Trump is supposed to show up in Texas today, and he faces some serious optics challenges. He isn't particularly self-aware. If his handlers aren't on Xanax, they should be. It's "no country for old men" used to the lap of luxury.

  19. [19] 
    TheStig wrote:

    There is an awful lot Trump Brand collusion:corruption news breaking loose during Harvey. The Trump admin:organization:family is up to it's armpits in alligators just now...not quite literally, but close. Can we really expect Jarhead handle the office while "dad" shambles about in designer waders?

  20. [20] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I read all of the comments with this article and I do not get what you are trying to say by that phrase. I apologize if it is obvious to everyone else, but I do not see how you expect Dems to use "fact-based persuasion" when the truth doesn't matter to people.

    Russ,

    I was just lamenting the fact that Democrats have the right take on most if not all issues as compared with Republicans and that, despite, they can't seem to win - even against Trump, for God's sake!!!

    I wondered why Democrats can't seem to capitalize on their being on the right side of issues and persuade at least 60% of American voters that their stand on the issues is the one that deserves votes.

    So, capitalization through fact-based persuasion refers only to how the Democrats should be taking advantage of having the most coherent and intelligent take on the issues by making the best arguments to persuade more voters to vote Democrat.

    I hope that clears it up because I'm out of time until much later tonight ...

  21. [21] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Russ,

    If the truth doesn't matter to people and they are not open to consistent and persistent fact-based persuasion, then we're up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

    What I am saying if capitalization by fact-based persuasion had been used as the overarching strategy in the last presidential election the outcome might have been much different.

  22. [22] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    By the way, Russ, would it kill ya to smile? I was trying to be funny in some of those comments ... :(

  23. [23] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Have any other Weigantians signed, Don?

  24. [24] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Liz-
    Sorry, I don't know. As most of my petitions have not gotten many signatures I don't check for a while to see if anyone has signed to keep from getting discouraged. :-(

    The reason Dems can't win is that while people may agree with the Dems on issues many don't believe the Dems will deliver, based on fact-based evaluation of the performance of the Big Money Democrats.

    They also ignore the facts when it comes to the performance of the Big Money Democrats. When criticized for their performance even by people like Elizabeth Warren at the Netsroots conference they pretend that the criticism never happened as evidenced by the Move On email that contained a clip of Elizabeth Warren's Netroots speech that only contained the last 11 or so minutes when she talked about universal democratic platitudes and did not include the first 18 minutes when she criticized the Move On/ Hillary/ Big Money part of the Democratic Party.

    Another casualty of the Distracting Reporting.

  25. [25] 
    neilm wrote:

    As most of my petitions have not gotten many signatures I don't check for a while to see if anyone has signed to keep from getting discouraged. :-(

    Hi Don:

    I did check "One Demand" with the intent to sign up, but the restrictions basically put me in a position of not voting for anybody except maybe fringe candidates.

    Perhaps a graded approach might be more effective: i.e. allow "nose holding" in elections, but show people how to find the candidates that are funded by smaller average donation size during primaries and agree (not commit, they might be nutso after all) to prefer them.

    I'm very supportive of your mission.

  26. [26] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    What about the 'Nader' petition, Neil? That's the one I signed.

  27. [27] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Liz-
    While I still have not checked the petition, I did hear from my friend in Seattle and a professor/columnist in California that said a few weeks ago that he would try to put something about One demand at some point in an upcoming article that they have signed.
    So I have at least four signatures (including me) from three states and one international(you).

  28. [28] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    neilm-
    Thank you for considering One Demand.

    Please consider that as some detractors here have pointed out, signing up is non-binding. If you sign up and nobody else does, you can always unsign and opt out.

    But if you do sign up, and maybe even get one or two other people to sign up, it doesn't seem like much but it could help get the ball rolling and build to the point where you don't have to opt out.

    Whatever you do, whether signing up or signing the petition, thank you for considering One Demand and expressing your support of the goal.

  29. [29] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    neilm-
    I respect the fact that you are displaying the same integrity that John Snow did in not making a promise you don't believe you can keep.

  30. [30] 
    Powderhound522 wrote:

    Is it really the case that the White House is dumping bad news during the hurricane? From Vanity Fair's article on Kushner and Ivanka:

    "The couple, somewhat famously, seems to skip town at the precise moment a political catastrophe befalls the White House—letting it be known, for instance, that they were on vacation in Vermont when President Trump delivered his deeply troubling statements about the violence in Charlottesville. (One West Wing aide noted to me that it isn’t that they leave when bad things happen; it’s just that bad things are always happening.)"

  31. [31] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    Liz,

    I get it now! Thank you for clearing that up for me! I honestly couldn't believe that was what you were suggesting, because from reading your comments for over a year that isn't the type person I think that you are.

    I am sorry for not smiling back at ya. I'll work on that and I thank you for reminding me not to take everything so seriously. ;D

    -Russ

  32. [32] 
    Bleyd wrote:

    Just in case you guys were wondering, the flooding never quite got to me, so I'm doing just fine. Lucky I live a bit west of Houston, so I avoided the worst of it.

  33. [33] 
    neilm wrote:

    What about the 'Nader' petition, Neil? That's the one I signed.

    Sorry - I missed that link - can you please repost.

  34. [34] 
    neilm wrote:

    Just in case you guys were wondering, the flooding never quite got to me, so I'm doing just fine. Lucky I live a bit west of Houston, so I avoided the worst of it.

    Glad to hear it Bleyd. Such a shame for the people caught up in this. I'm hearing that some of the reservoirs are spilling over and that due to land use there might be worse flooding than in the past.

    Obviously stopping any loss of life is of paramount importance, but the clean up after this will take years, and given the nature of the Gulf there might be more storms yet this year. If my memory serves me we are only in the early stages of hurricane season.

  35. [35] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    neilm (33)-
    Ralph Nader wrote an article challenging Obama to speak up about Trump. In the article he said citizens should start a petition to Obama to speak up on Trump and other issues Obama should speak up about.

    So I started a petition for Ralph Nader to encourage Ralph to meet the same standards he sets for other leaders and media by addressing the One Demand campaign financing approach he has ignored since 2015.

    Some more background and argument for signing in comment 47 on "Two Big Deadlines" if needed.

    https://www.change.org/p/ralph-nader-address-the-one-demand-campaign-financing-approach

    https://

  36. [36] 
    dsws wrote:

    Capitalization through fact-based persuasion.

    When I saw this, for a moment I thought it had something to do with the ability to convince others that your factual assertions are correct, by judicious use of the caps lock key.

  37. [37] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    oops.
    One reason I don't get signatures could be putting an extra word in the link. Either way it's actually:

    https://www.change.org/p/ralph-nader-address-one-demand-campaign-financing-approach

  38. [38] 
    neilm wrote:

    OK, I signed the Nader petition :)

  39. [39] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    neilm-
    Thank you. That makes five that I know of. There was something about it being shared somehow when it got to five signatures, whatever that means.

    And thanks to anyone if they signed but did not post that they signed.

  40. [40] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Russ,

    I get it now!

    Excellent! :)

  41. [41] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Dan,

    When I saw this, for a moment I thought it had something to do with the ability to convince others that your factual assertions are correct, by judicious use of the caps lock key.

    Yes, admittedly, my little phrase to encapsulate the Democratic strategy for winning elections needs a bit of work ... or a lot of explanation. :)

  42. [42] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    ... but, I'm guessing Michale loves it! :)

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