By Terence Smith
Day after day, year after year, Donald J. Trump dominates the news cycles of American newspapers, networks and websites. Everything from his investigations and indictments to his latest preposterous statements makes page one.
Will he go on trial before the 2024 election, or not? Will he be indicted for inciting the rebellion of January 6? Or for his blatant, recorded efforts to steal the votes he lacked to win Georgia in 2020? Why did he stubbornly cling to the boxes of documents tucked away in Mar-a-Lago? All questions, no answers, at least not yet. And no real news.
And still, Trump often leads the evening news broadcasts and frequently is above-the-fold on page one. When Trump showed up for his arraignment in Miami recently, the broadcast networks all had their anchors on duty on site, vamping away as the proceedings took place beyond the cameras. As the estimable Maureen Dowd wrote last Sunday, Trump “has burrowed, tick-like, into the national bloodstream, causing all kinds of septic responses.”
It is hard to remember another former president who has had similar coverage. Even Richard M. Nixon largely disappeared after he resigned and was pardoned for his role in Watergate. We knew he was out in San Clemente strolling the beach in his black leather shoes, but we didn’t have to read about it.
All of which raises a question: is it time for editors and producers to reduce the coverage of Donald J. Trump? Should they deliberately downplay his antics and provocations? Or, at least apply the same standards and judgement to Trump “news” that they rightly apply to other news? Yes, Trump non-news sells papers and attracts viewers, but at what price? CNN certainly suffered when it staged a Trump town hall before an audience of unabashed Trump-lovers who laughed at his jokes and applauded his most outrageous comments. In the end, the joke was on CNN.
It is past time for editors and producers to be tough-minded when reporting about Trump. It is past time that they look hard at his antics and decide what truly constitutes news and what is inadvertent promotion. If he is indicted again, that’s news. But another rally in which he fantasizes about the “deep state” and rants about Hunter Biden? That’s not news.
By Terence Smith
I channel-surfed last week to see how the cable channels dealt with former President Trump’s much-advertised remarks at Mar-a-Lago the evening after his arraignment in New York. Predictably, Fox provided full, live coverage. CNN broadcast most of it live and then cut away for commentary. MSNBC recorded it and covered it like a news story with subsequent commentary.
Listening to Trump’s hour-long litany of grievances dating back to 2015, including his familiar attacks on Hillary Clinton, the FBI, the Justice Department and the prosecutors who are investigating him, I found myself wondering if he is really running for a second term in 2024.
I know he has formally declared his candidacy and has held rallies in Waco and elsewhere and raised money for his campaign, but the man speaking at Mar-a-Lago last week was a man obsessed with his past and not even mentioning his future.
Then the thought occurred to me: maybe Trump is not really running for re-election. Maybe he declared his candidacy last November on the assumption that it would give him at least some political cover against the indictments he knew were coming. Maybe he speculated that prosecutors and grand juries would be hesitant to charge a former president who is an active candidate for re-election. Maybe he believed that the Justice Department would hold off rather than indict a presidential candidate in the midst of a race for re-election?
Sloppy thinking, you say? Maybe, maybe not.
“Disloyal, a Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump,” by Michael Cohen is a trashy book, written in prison in a trashy, Brooklynese style, by a convicted felon. And yet, especially in its early chapters, it tells the reader a great deal about former President Trump.
Cohen’s central thesis, reinforced again and again over its 300-plus pages, is that the craven, narcissistic, grifter that he worked for on the 26th floor of the Trump Tower is the exact same person that occupied the Oval Office until Jan. 20, 2021. Trump, he argues, is Trump, then and now.
He is the same Trump that maneuvered endlessly in his Trump Tower days to promote himself in the tabloids and on talk radio and TV. Cohen illustrates his theory with all sorts of inside accounts of the shady “deals” Trump promoted over the years. “Disloyal,” is certainly not literature, but it has the ring of truth. Cohen’s book probably will not change your view of Donald J. Trump; more likely it will reinforce it.