Turning inner space into outer space

September 17, 2016

Journalists dance to Trump's tune

A Doonesbury comic strip from 1999. Posted by Ziya Tong on Twitter.

The worst thing about Donald Trump being president of the United States wouldn’t be his policies. These would be moderated by advisors, Congress and reality.

The worst part would be having to put up with four more years of media manipulation and self-promotion. As a presidential candidate, the media is forced to give him free national coverage. As president, his every word would be broadcast around the world.

A prime example of this was the Trump birther announcement last week. He held a press conference ostensibly to disavow conspiracy theories that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. He may as well have announced that he no longer believes that the world is flat, but media — especially the 24-hour cable news networks — were all obligated to show up and give live coverage.

The Washington Post called the event “the greatest trick he’s ever pulled.”

After starting an hour late, the “breaking news” consisted mainly of a promotion for Trump’s new hotel and a parade of veterans saying how great he is. The actual pronouncement on Obama’s birth lasted all of 30 seconds and he took no questions.

It was a low moment for politics and political coverage. A nothing-burger filled with falsehoods covered as though it was the Super Bowl. But for Trump, it might have been his crowning achievement: All eyes on him with the chance to direct the play in whatever way he saw fit. The ringmaster — calling the shots in all three rings of the circus. It was peak Trump.

Trump was so proud of this deception that he even tweeted a link to the Washington Post article.

The Columbia Journalism Review put it this way:

Trump has repeatedly played a similar con, dousing journalists in faux access littered with casual lies. This bait-and-switch — on the foundational issue of his political rise, at his gleaming new hotel in the heart of the American political establishment — was different only in its magnitude.

What makes this behaviour all the more galling is that it has been going on for decades. Trump was doing the same thing in 1990s, and journalists were every bit aware even then that they were being had.

Back in 1999, when he was looking at running for president with the Reform Party, the Doonesbury comic strip hit the nail on the head.

Trump is shown talking to reporters at a press conference: “It’s a win-win for me! Because no matter what I do, I get phenomenal, amazing, unbelievable publicity! You have to give it to me! For free! You have no choice! You’re sheep!”

In case you’re thinking we’ll be done with this nonsense once the election is over, have a look at CBC’s poll tracker. As of Saturday, it showed Trump behind Hillary Clinton by just 1.8 percentage points. It also showed him projected to take 259 votes in the electoral college. He needs only 11 more to win.