People Who Hate Donald Trump Should Be Happy That The Media Won’t Stop Talking About His Arraignment
This is only a "hot take" because everyone is insane.
On Thursday of last week, the New York Times broke the news that a grand jury in Manhattan had indicted former President Donald Trump. Over the weekend, it came out that Trump would be arraigned on Tuesday in Manhattan. On Monday, Trump traveled from Mar-a-Lago to Trump Tower in NYC. The next day he drove to a courthouse in lower Manhattan and surrendered. He was then arraigned and released. He drove to his plane and flew back to Florida, before giving a speech to his supporters later that evening.
The American news media covered all of these events with live, full-team coverage, as a former President had never been charged with a felony before, let alone 34 of them.
But if you looked on Twitter on Monday or Tuesday, the live coverage of these events was evil, stupid, unethical, and a gift to Donald Trump.
To understand how people who have spent years clamoring for this momentous occasion could recoil at the news media paying as much attention to it as they did, we must gas up the time machine and trip the light fantastic back to simpler times.
The role the media played in the 2016 Election
In 2015, when Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president, it was a circus. Originally, no one thought he stood a chance, and he was such a blowhard that it seemed like it might just be a fun trainwreck. Everyone was naturally excited to watch the disaster. In retrospect, this led to some unfortunate media choices. Knowing what we know now, it is understandably embarrassing that cable news televised his rambling campaign speeches uninterrupted
Once it became clear that Trump was actually going to win the Republican nomination, they got a little better about it, but they still did it a bit even up through November 2016.
Democrats, stinging from his surprise win over Hillary, blamed the media for their saturation coverage. And they had at least a bit of a fair point. CNN and MSNBC both did just give him a lot of free airtime to ramble and lie. They didn’t do it because they wanted to spread lies or boost his candidacy. They did it for the understandable reason that they were getting high ratings. But it took them a while—too long—to realize that in furtherance of those ratings, they were doing bad things.
This fact has haunted journalists ever since. I can tell you that it even haunted liberal Mother Jones. In early 2017, we had lots of earnest discussions about our mistakes in covering him. And again, this was Mother Jones! Our coverage was never fawning. It was never even close to that. It was always negative. And our audience was liberals. They were not ever going to vote for him, and they almost certainly didn’t. But that didn’t stop us from having some real discussions about if we had given him too much coverage.1
Other less ideological places with more mainstream audiences had similar versions of those discussions. Some of them ended with really weird, embarrassing things like “Democracy Dies In Darkness.” But other changes were less stupid. The cable channels started to be more circumspect about just airing his speeches unfettered. They would still air them, but they[‘d cut away more or they’d use the chyron to debunk his lies, or whatever.
But the point is that after 2016 there was a media criticism that was largely shared by Democrats, liberals, NeverTrump conservatives, and journalists themselves. The media’s coverage of Trump during the election gave him a leg up.
This has always been more true in myth than in fact. It is undoubtedly true that the free coverage he received in 2015 and the first part of 2016 helped him in the Republican Primary. It helped him be a real candidate. It ate up all the oxygen for other candidates. But it is not at all clear that it helped him in the general election.
The unkillable myth that the media helps Trump
In a primary, you have to beat a whole field of candidates. And the people you’re trying to win over largely agree with you about the big things. Not the small things but the big things. In a primary, the level of airtime you take up, particularly if you’re already leading in the polls, has a direct connection to your chances of winning that primary. If you’re winning and no one is talking about anyone else and those primary voters have already indicated they do not find you entirely objectionable, then no one else has a chance of making enough waves to change the trend and you win. Obviously, a lot of Republicans didn’t like Trump during the primary, but once he won, they got in line (for the most part). Because they prefer any Republican to any Democrat.
But in the general election, the “all media is good media” theory breaks down. You obviously cannot win a national election in the united states with only Republican (or Democratic) votes. You have to win at least some independents and you’ll probably score some people from the other party.
Pick your poison with how you want to look at opinion polling through 2016, but here’s 538’s national polling averages from June through the election.
It’s not completely constant. There are some mild fluctuations, but it’s pretty consistent. The changes that do exist are when one candidate drops. Sometimes this is timed with another candidate gaining, but most of the time it is not. And at the end of the day, both candidates went into election day with very, very similar numbers to what they had in June.
You should take two things away from this graph.
Neither candidate got more popular during the general election.
When a candidate got less popular, it wasn’t because their opponent converted their support. It was because something happened in their own news cycle that turned people off ( at least temporarily).
This is another way of saying that the attention of the media in the 2016 general election was not a good thing for either candidate. Attention pulled polling numbers in one direction: down.
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