To members of the media, I assume that this president is the gift that keeps on giving: If you’re having a slow day, if there’s nothing interesting happening, if you need something to fill up those pages, never fear: that’s what Trump’s Twitter feed is for.
And yet, despite the advice of his lawyers, the man just keeps on Tweeting. It’s humbling to behold. Even for Trump, though, you have to admit that attacking Mika Brzezinski is approaching a new low. This is especially true after the Megyn Kelly incident. It all comes down to what I can only assume is a stunning lack of common sense, or self-preservation, or both.
But Trump does stupid stuff every day. Perhaps the most interesting part, then, is looking at how it was covered in the news. This actually made the front page of the Times, at least in the digital edition. I have to wonder about this, because, though Trump’s actions were certainly inappropriate, it seems unusual to devote a front-page story to what remains a tweet. Trump, after all, tweets every day, and he insults people publicly almost as often. My point is that we’ve all seen this kind of behavior so many times that one would think it would hardly get any coverage any more.
I think part of this can easily be explained by what I wrote at the top, which is that the media essentially uses Trump stories to pad their coverage. To them, I’m sure this behavior makes sense: How much do you want to bet that any story with “Trump” in the headline gets significantly more clicks? Also, if you complain to a liberal about the constant use and discussion of the word “Trump”, the standard justification that you’re going to get goes something along the lines of not “normalizing” his behavior.
Of course, the problem this presents, (and which was more acute during the campaign) is that one man’s “not normalization” is another man’s “free advertising”. Now obviously, negative coverage is not ideal for this, but it’s a lot better than nothing being said at all. To that end, the media walks a fine line. It’s easy to get caught up in sensationalism and the thirst for eyeballs. It’s difficult to see the damage you’re doing until it’s already done.
At the end of the day, what we’re left with is a chief executive for whom the traditional sort of media coverage strategy essentially breaks down at every level, from unusual restrictions on White House press conferences, to strings of 3 AM tweets, to the constant second-guessing and alienation of the media industry at every step. Suffice to say, this is probably not something that they teach you how to deal with in journalism school. (At least not yet…)
The other part of this incident that alarmed me slightly was Brzezinski’s response on Twitter: a picture of a box of cheerios with the phrase “made for little hands”, presumably poking fun at a slightly nonsensical insult leveled at Trump. (I’m not entirely sure why this is even still a thing at this point. I guess it gets thrown around for the sole reason that it, equally nonsensically, makes him mad.) To me this seems like a shockingly juvenile response from people who are supposed to be professionals. I suppose it’s always tempting to fight fire with fire, but with Trump, the key is always to avoid stooping to his level. This is especially true for the news media, whom I assume want to maintain a reputation of level-headedness and credibility.
Clearly, covering Trump is a difficult proposition, and he seems to make it more so by the day. If anything, it will be interesting to see how the news media adapts to this challenge.