Media went up against President-elect Donald Trump and lost. The country’s largest media outlets threw their support behind Hillary Clinton and ran story after story explaining in detail how a Trump presidency would be a bad deal for the United States. Trump will take his oath of office on January 20th and the President-elect continues to outsmart the media. We have some clues about how the media can better cover the next administration.
Donald Trump uses his Twitter presence to create his own headlines. Attention-grabbing stories, traditionally the domain of talented writing staff, are now essentially written by Trump himself on Twitter. Outlets like CNN, The Washington Post, and Vox all publish the President-elect’s tweets and spend hours of air time and thousands of words analyzing what those 140 characters mean. Rather than engaging Trump directly and pressing the next president on the feasibility of his policies, his conflicts of interest, and increased violence since the election, many media outlets waste valuable time and energy critiquing Trump’s speech and tweeting style.
This is exactly what Donald Trump is good at. Our next president understands ratings and how the media cycle works. He is skillfully able to divert media attention (and the public eye) away from his messy transition and dubious business connections to claims of mass voter fraud, the play Hamilton, and insults hurled at The New York Times. Rather than questioning why Rudy Giuliani should be Secretary of State, we are watching live feeds of Trump Tower in New York as his transition team parades the next high-profile guest to the elevators. Trump is now effectively the producer of his own The Apprentice – White House Edition and mainstream media is playing right into the trap.
The question now is how the media can stand their ground under a Trump administration. We get a clue from the way The New York Times handled an interview with Donald Trump in late November 2016. Rather than allowing Trump to dictate his own rules and threaten to walk away, the Times staff stood their ground. The interview happened, on the Times’ terms.
Mainstream media should remember that, like all presidents, Donald Trump needs coverage.
The media must write the rules and stand firm.