If Donald Trump has the kryptonite powers of Superman that both his friends and enemies think he has (and who are we to say he doesn’t?), kryptonite power #1 is his ability to absorb limitless drama and energy from an attack and send it back at his attacker in bursts of invective from both mouth and thumbs.
Remember Pizzagate? That was the debunked conspiracy theory that hacked emails from John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, revealed coded messages about a child-sex ring at the Washington pizza restaurant Comet Ping Pong on upper Connecticut Avenue. The fanciful story originated with considerably less-than-reputable sources, and the mainstream media, so called, swallowed it whole. Someone of small imagination appended the word “gate” to pizza and soon mainstream media had a new soft-crust constitutional crisis, with or without anchovies.
The story grew legs when a 28-year-old man named Edgar Welch drove up from North Carolina to “rescue” the children and fired three shots into the pizza restaurant with an AR-15-style rifle. Fortunately none of the children who didn’t actually need saving were hurt and the gunman was summarily arrested.
Six days later, when the president-elect first used the all-capitals label “FAKE NEWS!” with an exclamation point, it quickly found its way into mainstream outlets like CNN as a way of describing dubious rumors, gossip, street hearsay and theories too juicy to check out, and on which Internet web outlets thrive. Mr. Trump had found a way to turn an attack around, absorbing the bullets and firing them back at his enemies like Superman.
Soon the media would embrace Mr. Trump as its favorite punching bag, and he came up with more words to fight back with, and he soon started using the term “Enemy of the State” to describe his many media enemies. The problem both for the president and his adversaries is that it was a match of equals that neither side could win. They became yin and yang. Every time they hit each other they each seemed to grow stronger. Politicians since forever have made hay denouncing “them lyin’ newspapers,” and by extension “the press” before it was called “the media,” and both press and politicians have survived.
“If I weren’t here I believe The New York Times probably wouldn’t even exist,” Mr. Trump said last week in response to the anonymous op-ed published by the New York newspaper, said to have been written by a “senior administration official.” Mr. Trump calls this adversary “the failing New York Times,” but last year the newspaper’s subscription revenue grew to more than $1 billion, and another prominent adversary, The Washington Post, surpassed a million digital subscriptions for the first time last year.
The Trump presidency has been a boon for many newspapers, cable news outlets and the television networks, because it provides a constant and uninterrupted narrative to feed a 24/7 “news hole.” CNN, the president’s chief cable-TV tormentor, even retired its year-long 24/7 coverage of the missing Malaysian airliner long after it had gone to sleep with the fishes, and the network had put millions of viewers to sleep on their sofas and rocking chairs. Though television viewership typically plummets in the year after an election, the Pew Research Center calculates that the average audience for cable TV news and the network channels remained stable in 2017. The combined money paid by advertisers for the evening broadcast news programs, according to Kantar Media, were $552 million, roughly the same as in 2016.
“Someday, when I’m not president, which hopefully will be in about six and a half years from now,” says Mr. Trump, “these phony media outlets will be out of business, because there’ll be nothing to write and there’ll be nothing of interest.” But he’s wrong. As Gilda Radner on the older, better “Saturday Night Live” observed, “it’s always somethin’.”
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