How To Cover Trump?

[ Posted Thursday, January 25th, 2024 – 16:22 UTC ]

The mainstream media has had eight years to figure out how to cover Donald Trump. But quite obviously they still haven't really figured out the best way to do so. They ping-pong back and forth between largely ignoring him or giving him a huge (and free and unchecked) megaphone to use. This conundrum is upon us once again in a big way, since at this point Trump has to be seen as the presumptive Republican nominee for president.

In 2015 and 2016, the media lavished all kinds of free airtime on Trump. They covered all his rallies live. Trump, after all, was entertaining -- and nobody really thought he had a chance of winning. So it was all just in fun: "Hey, look at the crazy guy the Republicans nominated to take on Hillary Clinton!" The late-night comedians had a field day. It was all just so laughable to even consider the notion that he could win.

Nobody's laughing now, of course. Giving Trump all that free media attention did not tear him down, instead it boosted him. He rode that wave right into the White House, in fact. It wasn't the only reason Trump won (there were plenty of others, to be sure) but it certainly helped him out.

Then there were the four years of his presidency. The media had to cover Trump, he was the president after all -- so every last outrageous tweet became big news when it appeared. There was so much of it that it was absolutely overwhelming, in fact. Trump played the media like a fiddle throughout. If some piece of bad news threatened to become the big story of the day, Trump picked up his phone and tweeted out some bizarre rant about some ridiculous and unrelated issue -- and the media stampeded to cover Trump's shiny, shiny object each and every time. The bad news of the day had to take a backseat to Trump's new antics. It was downright exhausting.

Since January 6th, Trump has largely faded from view. I know this is an odd thing to say, since Trump has indeed been in the news a lot, both with his legal problems (four indictments, 91 charges) and his presidential campaign. But he's still not tweeting -- he's now got his own pet social media platform where he talks solely to the Trumpian echo chamber. And few of these postings get much media attention -- or at least not nearly as much as when he was tweeting from the Oval Office.

But now things have changed. Trump is -- barring any unexpected extraordinary circumstance -- going to be the GOP nominee again. The general election race seems to already have begun. And the media has now been denied the luxury of writing about the primary horserace for months on end, so the general election race is going to be the only game in town for the political punditocracy from this point on.

Most of the public is already weary of this contest. It's a rematch of 2020, and few people wanted to see it happen. A whole bunch of people are either consciously tuning it all out or in a heavy state of denial that Joe Biden and Donald Trump will be their main choices in November.

But, like I said, the landscape has shifted. The choice is the same as it ever was for the media: either cover everything Trump says (broadcasting his rallies, etc.) or they just feed into the desire of their readers/viewers to vaguely speak about Trump as if he's a known quantity and hasn't changed (call it "Trump in the abstract" instead of today's reality).

Trump has changed, though. He's gotten more mean-spirited and vicious, and a whole lot less entertaining. His rallies are full of retreads of his "greatest hits" and Trump is absolutely consumed with his own problems and his own grudges. Trump is also directly calling for what can only be described as fascism -- the use of governmental power to crush his enemies. People need to see this once again, to realize that Trump isn't just some abstract guy they have rather vague memories of, but instead a direct threat to American democracy right now. His second term as president, should he win, will have no guardrails. Nobody's going to tell him what he can and can't do this time around. There will be no "adults in the room" in his cabinet. The only people who will be hired to work at the White House will be utterly loyal to Trump, no matter what.

That is a scary prospect, and it is up to the media to inform people that this is exactly what Trump plans to do. This is going to mean giving Trump enough airtime so that people can actually see him as he now is -- viciously mean, vengefully spiteful, stuck in the past, oblivious to reality, and mentally unstable. People really do need to see that, unvarnished, so they can all remember what it was like (how exhausting it all was) to have him in the White House.

Providing context is crucial, of course. Fact-checking Trump is almost impossible to do in real time, since he spews lies faster than a firehose spews water. Some discretion is required, to separate out the truly dangerous lies from the idiotic and minor lies Trump tells. But the dangerous lies must be highlighted. People need to be reminded of who Trump really is and what he seems to really believe.

This is going to be a challenge for the mainstream media. It'll be a tough tightrope to walk, as it always has been. They can't uncritically allow Trump all the airtime he wants just as a joke (the way they did in his initial campaign) and they can't get distracted by Trump dragging endless red herrings across their path. They can give him airtime, but only with a heavy dose of commentary and fact-checking presented in tandem. They can highlight the most dangerous of his lies and misperceptions about reality. And they can give Joe Biden and his team equal coverage, so people can directly see the contrast between what the two major candidates are promising for America.

Most of all, they cannot treat Trump as a joke. That's probably the most important thing. Sure, he says some thing that are downright laughable. And he tries to excuse his gaffes and obvious factual errors by claiming he was "just kidding." But leave the comedy to the late-night crews (they're better at pointing out such flaws and foibles anyway). Treat Trump with the seriousness he deserves.

It's going to be a very tough tightrope to walk, that's for sure. Let's hope the mainstream media has learned at least a few lessons on how to cover Trump and all he now stands for, so they don't keep repeating their mistakes from the past. That's something to hope for, at least.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


2 Comments on “How To Cover Trump?”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I think you can forget about the mainstream media learning any lessons about how to cover Trump. They are not up to it, not by any stretch of the imagination. That much is so crystal clear that it would be foolish to hope for it to happen.

    I think covering Trump is up to Nikki Haley and she has shown some promise that she knows just how to do it. She'll have to sacrifice some elements of self-preservation and stay in this race as long as she possibly can without looking like a complete fool. She'll also have to resist the temptation to say yes to being Trump's running mate or otherwise supporting the presumptive Republican nominee.

    And, she'll definitely have to break the ridiculous pledge she made to support the Republican nominee no matter who it turns out to be.

    It should be fun to watch!

  2. [2] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    About a million Americans died because Donald refused to exert his authority to fight COVID. Millions more were saved because Biden did. Would you rather have cheaper coca cola or your relative still alive?

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