TPM Reader NB responds to my post on Trump coverage …
I have to say, this piece made me uncharacteristically angry, and I’m still trying to put my finger on precisely why—especially since I agree with you about the basic remedy. Yes, the media’s job is neither to hide behind endless euphemism or analysis-as-apologia, nor to engage in deplatforming, but first and foremost to inform. Leave the excuse-making to partisans or to the audience’s own shocked internal But Surely!’s.
Where you lose me though is in your contempt for deplatforming, and for the whole “amplification” argument. It’s simply untrue that cutting off channels of mass communication doesn’t work—Milo Yiannopoulos went broke and essentially disappeared once he lost his book deal and main platform (Twitter, if I recall correctly), and Tucker Carlson is a shadow of his former self. These are just the first two examples that spring to mind. The fact is that there *is* a major difference between the situation where people can find you if they look, and the situation where your every angry thought is pumped into the public consciousness with a firehose. Trump being booted from Twitter had no ill effects whatsoever, and indeed made the platform much more tolerable until Elon Musk bought it and decided to fill the void with his own firehose of hateful bullshit.
Look, by all means inform us, but we are under no obligation to accept the kind of constant bombardment of Trump content that we lived with for five-plus years. As you say, the problem here isn’t really ignorance, it’s that millions and millions of Americans know damn well what he’s about and love him for it. The modern Republican Party is simply a 21st century American Nazi party, complete with book burnings, persecution of “deviants,” and gleeful fascist memes and propaganda—and a sizable portion of our population is eating it up. Does that mean the rest of us have to bear witness to every sonnenrad and fourteen-word statement that graces the former president’s timeline? The man keeps making news by doing newer, viler things, and at some point the media’s mission to report on him has to be balanced against the need to tell us about the not-him parts of the world—which are most of it! If you have to dig past Trump’s sixteen most recent threats to democracy in order to find out what your government is actually doing right now, are you really being informed?
I don’t think the answer here is simply to scoff at the media critics who say Trump shouldn’t be amplified. Sure, the dynamics of 2016 are no more, and there’s no reason to believe that getting on CNN is a superpower—but that doesn’t mean CNN doesn’t have better things to report on. The media has a sort of sickness where it deems one man’s fascist bluster more newsworthy than any actual thing that is actually happening. Again, if you have to dig past Trump’s sixteen most recent threats to democracy…
Let me ask you this: Did anyone who follows the news doubt, before this latest iteration, that Trump would spend his time in office exercising violence against his enemies du jour and threatening various powerful companies with legal/illegal action? I’m pretty sure we were all kind of banking on it. That is, after all, what he spent his time in office doing, right up to his final hours! This is a man who, faced with an unprecedented pandemic, tried to cut blue states off from the supply of ventilators and PPE! Who publicly and famously tried to get his own vice president killed! So when he threatens Milley with execution, it’s not that we don’t need to know, it’s that we already *do* know. What Trump said just isn’t news, by any meaningful definition. Same story with the Comcast bit. Are we really shocked by this threat, when Trump’s most sad-trombone mimi-me has been engaged in a seemingly endless twilight struggle with Disney?
The fact is that, perhaps now more than ever, media space is a limited commodity. Tweets and their Truth Social equivalents are taking up space that might otherwise be indictment coverage, or or court system coverage, or what have you. If we don’t raise the threshold for what counts as Trump news, we’ll miss a lot of what’s actually going on.