The media should just let Donald Trump go on his vacation: Andrew MacDougall
The constant state of breaking news makes it hard for the regular crowd to focus on what's important
So good is Donald Trump at generating revenue and ratings for news organizations, media are now trolling Trump's golf partners as the president enjoys a "working" golf holiday at his club in Bedminster, New Jersey. With this administration, it's always scoop o'clock.
But imagine graduating from journalism school to spend your time scouring Instagram for posts of the president with club in hand. What does the press hope to achieve by getting under the president's skin in this manner?
Who knows? Perhaps the president is yakking with his mates about how he colluded with Russia to edge out Hillary Clinton. It could be that Trump is discussing his (apparently non-existent) plans to get health care or tax reform through Congress. Maybe he'll even repeat his claim — made earlier on a golf course, and subsequently denied — that the White House is a "dump."
One thing is certain: the internet is at the ready to react to whatever morsel of "news" is eventually uncovered. And the cable news networks will readily empanel their grand juries of political experts to parse every penalty, mulligan, or gimme of the president's game.
It's exhausting. Especially for August, when people with lives tune out.
Deciphering what's important
That's why media should instead leave the president alone for the next few weeks. For their own good. This constant state of breaking news makes it hard for the regular crowd to focus on what's important.
Yes, the president is the president even when he's not behind the desk in the Oval Office, and the leader of the free world is news wherever he goes. But it doesn't mean we need chapter and verse from the first tee.
NBC News even sent the president off on holiday with a minute-long montage of him slagging Barack Obama for his golf habits. And while it's true Trump promised to be different, it's not top of mind for people worrying about their health care, or their taxes, or the fact the pint-sized madman of North Korea is popping off rockets like it's the Fourth of July.
- Trump working very hard to tell everyone he's working very hard on 17-day vacation
Moreover, it risks coming across as petty to those who aren't necessarily Trumpers, but who do think the media is getting up its own backside by covering every Trump fart like it's a room-clearing explosion.
"Why do the press have to hit Trump on everything," a dinner group of curious French citizens asked me last week (thinking I was a proper journalist). They were genuinely baffled by the volume of coverage coming out of Washington.
Call it the Trump Paradox: with so much scandal it is becoming easier for the non-obsessives to tune it all out. Heck, I love politics and I can't keep up. I'm (almost) getting tired of it.
The Trump Paradox is really just a version of the so-called "paradox of choice" described by American psychologist Barry Schwartz.
Schwartz was talking about consumer choice, and how too much of it provokes anxiety in the shopping public (how many cereal choices do I need!), but the same principle can apply to politics and scandal.
If you think about the scandal and journalism of yore as a local corner store, where you knew the merchant and shelf-space was limited, today's environment is an infinite Walmart, where quantity is rarely sacrificed for quality.
Where news was once highly-curated for inclusion into a final product that arrived on a set schedule, the internet is a gushing firehose of information that goes as fast as it comes, often without leaving much of an impression.
In this way, Trump's modus operandi of chaos is tailor-made for today's world. With so much stuff happening — including bad stuff — there's hardly ever enough time for something to stick. And with boffo ratings on offer, there's always a reason for the press to follow the next shiny bouncing ball.
Striving for discipline
Donald Trump caught in the old news cycle would have been a dead man. It allowed time (and resource) for slow, deliberate investigation. The smaller news window in people's lives guaranteed a focus on the big issues that decide presidencies. That Trump exists, by contrast, in the fractured age of digital and social media gives him his best chance at survival. Even if it is all coverage worthy, we lack the bandwidth to process it.
This isn't to suggest the old way was perfect. Far from it. But its discipline is something modern journalists should ape when reporting on a phenomenon like Trump.
For the cable newsers, would the latest Trump development rate a slot in a 22-minute half-hour newscast? If yes (e.g. the failure to repeal and replace Obamacare), then explode that issue across cable news, using the extra time to properly deconstruct the impacts on the lives of voters.
For print reporters, would their copy merit inclusion in the front pages of the paper? And if so, how many inches? If the answer is "few," then it probably doesn't need the full multi-media treatment, including the dreaded "this is what people are tweeting about 'x'" dreck on the website.
Of course, this will never happen. Media organizations suffer from massive Trump FOMO. And if they don't report it someone else will (and steal the resulting clicks).
As much as the media might loathe Donald Trump and his politics, they love his impact on their industry. If there is money to be made then — given the state of their industry — journalists are going to take it. Even if it means endless arguing over administrivia like the length and composition of a president's golf vacation.
As CBS president Les Moonves quipped about the Trump effect during the primary season: "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS."
And how about the people CBS and other news organizations purport to serve? That jury is still out.