We should do better, but how can we? By “we” I mean media wretches — the purveyors, so President Donald Trump charges, of “fake news.” The reality is that we constantly deal in his fake spews of outrageous controversy, which he concocts to feed his insatiable need for attention, and our perpetual need to have something to feed our beasts.
Astronomers made a big deal about actually photographing a black hole; we all know that it doesn’t compare with the black hole that is Donald Trump’s desperate inner child. But what can we do? As journalists, we can’t just ignore the guy. He is, after all, our emperor. Thankfully, he does have clothes – one dark suit and a red tie that’s too long — but imagine the alternative.
The point is that he sucks us into the fake ooze of his latest contrivance. No matter how preposterous, we run with it, breathlessly reporting the absurdity du jour, while various news networks convene a panel of “experts” who chew on whatever nonsense he has dreamed up until it’s mush. After a few hours, or until he is alone in the dark recesses of Twitter, the Trumpster will tire of that heap and create new garbage.
This not only starts a new cycle, it also allows him to control the entire news agenda. A case in point is the idea of rounding up all the immigrants who are overrunning our southern border and transporting them to the cities, counties and states that have chosen to become “sanctuaries,” meaning they won’t necessarily cooperate with federal immigration officials.
Trump’s pretense had the usual Pavlovian effect on us news hounds. We started drooling, actually foaming at the mouth, just because the Donald had thrown us another bone of contention. Never mind that the idea is ludicrous, and never mind that it wouldn’t work, that it would be illegal and too expensive; he had once again created a frenzy. Democrats went into various stages of huffing and puffing about Trump’s cruelty, his barbarity.
The experts were in full raging pundit mode. The newspapers were covered with stories splattered onto their front pages. Somewhere, Donald Trump was having a good chuckle. He had bamboozled us, sucked us into his sewer still again. The overflow would cover the weekend and the weekend game shows – excuse me, talk shows – where the hosts and their guests would take the bait and debate, offending and defending, sputtering and muttering at each other about the latest Trump utterance. It’s unclear whether Donald Trump plans this stuff or whether it’s just impulse. He has built an entire lifetime of prosperity because of an amazing ability to shamelessly promote himself. He is Tabasco to everyone else’s vanilla, particularly in a Washington that, frankly, thrives on dull.
That’s how it used to be: Personalities would come here to die. It’s easy for Trump to stand out. When it comes time to blow his horn, he’s all brass and everyone else is muted. As opposed to the get-along-go-along harmony here, he is all about dissonance. Those of us who record him may cover our ears and hold our noses, but we treat his every screech like music. It’s noise pollution, part of the political pollution that fouls the entire world.
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN. (c) 2019 Bob Franken Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.