How Trump Hypnotizes the Media
Clearly he's put a spell on the press. The first step in breaking it? Figuring out how his tricks work.By Jack Shafer, Politico.com
March 09, 2016
Every politician games the news media, but few play better ball control than Donald Trump. Because he’s shameless and because he’s brilliant, Trump has run the court with journalists this campaign season. Even this late in the cycle, reporters seem unaware of how he continues to get the better of them.
There’s no better place to start than Trump’s demonstration Tuesday night. He had just fanny-whacked the Republican field in Michigan and Mississippi and called a post-victory “press conference” that went on for 40-plus minutes. There has never been a moment in American politics like it. The press conference—likened to an infomercial for the way Trump hawked Trump wine, Trump water, Trump magazine, Trump Angus steaks, and other Trump-branded goods and services—accomplished several publicity goals for the candidate. By taking to the air first and performing in such a clownish, rambling fashion, Trump dared the top three cable networks to break away from his entertaining buffoonery to cover the Hillary Clinton victory speech in real time. He won that dare. Clinton was relegated to tape delay.
Trump has put a spell on the press. He hasn’t rendered them powerless, of course. Exposés of his business affairs abound, and the commentariat keeps ripping into him like a bandsaw, but the punches don’t seem to land. Likewise, TV news’ top interlocutors—NBC’s Chuck Todd, CNN’s Jake Tapper, and CBS’ John Dickerson—have pounded him, but they might as well be punching the Pillsbury Doughboy for all the damage they’ve done. Cable news has been hypnotized into believing that any willingness by Trump to appear—on camera or remote via telephone—amounts to news. And don’t get me started on the producers who have decided that any Trump “speech” deserves airplay. The only explanation for Trump’s allure has to be witchcraft.
The news media must break the spell. But before it can, it must understand his magic. At the core of his game is distraction: He shows the media and the public something shiny, sparkly, and outrageous, and they race after it. While they’re running, he returns to his laboratory to conjure something else equally shiny and outrageous for them to chase. It’s like watching a dog trainer leading a pack of feral hounds into performing a ballet.