The media today: Trump and television, a love story

In the pages of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, President Donald Trump is obsessed with the way he is covered on television. “Much of the president’s daily conversation was a repetitive rundown of what various anchors and hosts had said about him,” Wolff writes. The man with access to any measure of intelligence briefings and classified reports is depicted as reachable through only one medium. “Trump didn’t read. He didn’t even really skim. If it was in print, it might as well not exist….He was postliterate—total television.”

That obsession with the airwaves was on display again over the weekend, as White House advisor Stephen Miller appeared on CNN’s State of the Union with the apparent goal of speaking directly to his boss. For 12 minutes, Miller filibustered through host Jake Tapper’s pointed questions and blasted Wolff as the “garbage author of a garbage book.” Eventually, Tapper had enough, and called Miller on his posturing. “There’s one viewer that you care about right now, and you’re being obsequious, you’re being a factotum in order to please him,” Tapper said before cutting the interview short. “I think I have wasted enough of my viewers’ time.”

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The one viewer Tapper referenced was apparently watching, as Trump tweeted soon after the segment, “Jake Tapper of Fake News CNN just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller of the Trump Administration. Watch the hatred and unfairness of this CNN flunky!”

Parsing Trump’s Twitter activity has become a regular beat for those covering the president. Is he playing four-dimensional chess? Purposefully bypassing traditional outlets to speak directly to the public? Blasting out controversial statements to distract from a story he doesn’t want to get airtime? According to Media Matters’s Matthew Gertz, who has been tracing the feedback loop between cable news and the president for the past three months, it’s none of the above. Writing for Politico Magazine, Gertz argues, “There is no strategy to Trump’s Twitter feed; he is not trying to distract the media. He is being distracted. He darts with quark-like speed from topic to topic in his tweets because that’s how cable news works.”

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With a few exceptions, the partisan crosstalk and facile analysis of cable news is not the place to go for nuanced discussions of important topics (Trump’s predecessor reportedly used “Morning Joe watchers” as a stand-in for “idiots”). That Trump uses the medium as his primary mode of information-gathering is scary, but understanding where his information comes from is an important step in analyzing, and often discounting, his outbursts.

Below, more on Trump and the television.

  • A shrinking schedule with plenty of TV time: Axios’s Jonathan Swan reports that Trump’s official schedule has been severely curtailed since the early days of the administration, leaving more room for “Executive Time,” which Swan says consists mostly of “TV and Twitter time alone in the residence.”
  • Miller aftermath: Business Insider’s Linette Lopez reports that Miller refused to leave the set of Tapper’s show and had to be escorted out by CNN security.
  • A not-so-believable defense: As The New York Times prepared a lengthy story about the president’s typical day in the White House, Trump attempted to head off reports of his television habits, telling reporters on Air Force One, “I do not watch much television. I know they like to say—people that don’t know me—they like to say I watch television. People with fake sources—you know, fake reporters, fake sources. But I don’t get to watch much television, primarily because of documents. I’m reading documents a lot.”
  • Trump’s comfort food: Tracing the president’s relationship with his favorite morning show, Fox & Friends, The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz writes that “the thin fourth wall between Trump and his TV” is often breached.


Other notable stories


  • Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes stole the show, and led some to wonder whether it could be a precursor to a political turn.
  • It’s been nearly a month since Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in Myanmar. “As they near their hearing date, it remains entirely clear that they are innocent of any wrongdoing,” Reuters Editor in Chief Stephen J. Adler said in a statement. “Their arrest and continued incarceration represent an egregious attack on press freedom—preventing them, and deterring other journalists, from reporting independently in Myanmar. We again call for their immediate release.”
  • CJR’s Mathew Ingram argues that Twitter is correct in its decision not to ban President Trump from the platform. “Apart from their news value, Trump’s tweets also provide something else, and that is a real-time look inside the mind and psyche of the president of the United States,” Ingram writes. “It may be a dark place, and looking into it repeatedly may be soul-destroying and depressing for a number of reasons, but it is still arguably valuable to have those thoughts out in public where we can see them.”
  • The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis has a timely profile of The Nation sports writer Dave Zirin. “In the springtime of athletic resistance, Zirin is more than just a columnist,” Curtis writes. “He is a kind of insider: the Adam Schefter of lefty dissent.”
  • My colleague Nausicaa Renner and I argue that “Michael Wolff’s brand of journalism may be ugly—prioritizing access over accountability—but it’s the perfect match for the Trump era.

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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.