Hot Air and the Media

Donald Trump as parade balloonThis morning, NPR reporter Steve Inskeep spoke the words “Donald Trump” and stopped. After a pause, he said, “That’s it. That’s all I need to say. You know you’re interested.”

I have news for Steve Inskeep, NPR, CBS, and all the other alphabetical purveyors of what is supposed to be news.

Many media consumers are interested in hearing about Trump’s latest antics. They can sate their interest on niche news sites and opinion blogs.

As a candidate for President, Trump rates coverage in national news—coverage equal to that bestowed on the rest of the pack that is running.

But reporters really ought to know that the words “Donald Trump” do not stir emotions of intense interest in the entire population. For some of us, at least, those two words trigger a gut-wrenching, change-the-channel reflex.

In what was presumably supposed to be an “in-depth” news interview with Jonah Goldberg, a writer for the National Review, Inskeep and his subject trotted out all the usual sound bites—“Trump knows how to handle the media,” “Trump commands the news cycle,” “Trump sucks the air out of the room”—apparently oblivious of the fact that it is people like them who have created the inflated parade balloon that is Donald-Trump-the-candidate-for-president.

Today’s non-story was Trump’s announcement that he would not participate in an upcoming debate because he objects to the presence of Fox reporter Megan Kelly.

Before I switched them off, I heard Goldberg compare the “situation” to “the fight in Anchorman.” I know that Anchorman is the title of a movie about news reporting, but not having seen it, I have no idea what he meant. It seems to me that national news sources should treat what they consider serious news seriously, not as some kind of in-joke for fellow journalists.

What I found most annoying was Inskeep’s assumption that “everyone” is interested in Trump. When newscasters make statements like that, they’ve crossed the line from news coverage to editorializing—and proselytizing.

Trump cannot “command the news cycle” without the cooperation of the people who control the media.

Journalists, station managers and the like control the news cycle with their choice of what events to cover, how much airtime to give them, and the type of language used in reporting them.

A “news cycle” is not like a weather cycle. A weather cycle is shaped by hot and cold air masses. The news cycle is shaped by the media, which in turn shapes public opinion. Any newsworthiness that Trump possesses is bestowed upon him by the media.

On the other hand, maybe the news cycle is also caused by hot air masses.

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