Anderson Cooper is arguably CNN's most famous journalist, and it was his impassioned coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 more than anything else that put him at the top of the network's food chain. So it was natural that Cooper would produce a special for Katrina's 10th anniversary. The special was scheduled to run last Tuesday at 9 p.m. Cooper promoted it on his Twitter feed and on TV. But hours before it was supposed to air, Cooper suddenly informed his followers that it had been pushed back to Wednesday.
By now, you're probably thinking that something really big must have happened for CNN to tell its biggest star that his special about the most important story he's ever covered—and, lest we forget, one of the most important events in the recent history of the United States—to get lost for a night. Maybe there was an emergency White House address. Maybe someone really prominent had died.
Nope. Donald Trump had gotten into a fight with Univision anchor Jorge Ramos. Oh, and he'd given a speech at a rally. I'll let you compose yourself after hearing that world-altering news. Back of the line, Anderson! Screw Katrina! Donald Trump did something!
The CNN suits aren't monsters. They didn't make Cooper cover the Trump story. Instead, they brought in the ever-eager Don Lemon to guide viewers through this pulse-pounding story. Lemon actually has his own show at 10 p.m. these days, meaning that CNN could have waited just one hour to let him have at the Trump spectacular. But the network must have felt that wasn't enough, so it gave Lemon a full two hours to analyze everything. Among the crack team of experts he hosted was a former contestant on "The Apprentice."
This isn't to say that the Trump-Ramos thing isn't a story. Of course it's a story. Ramos is the most influential Latino journalist in the country, and one of the most influential journalists, period. (Full disclosure: I also work for Fusion, which is co-owned by Univision.) His dustup with The Donald spoke volumes about both Trump's barely-veiled racism and the inanities of the mainstream press corps, which spent the next day sniffily debating whether Ramos was too much of an "activist" and had been too rude to one of the rudest people in the history of American public life.
But I hope you don't laugh me out of the room if I suggest that Hurricane Katrina is a slightly bigger deal than Trump's feud with a journalist. CNN's willingness to toss Cooper overboard is a potent example of the depths of the elite media's addiction to Trump.
CNN, as is its wont, has taken this obsession to truly epic lengths, but it is far from alone. Every network has given over hours and hours of precious airtime to cover even the most minuscule rantings from the GOP frontrunner—and that's before we've even gotten to the endless interviews they've done with Trump, nearly all of them over the phone. If Trump came in liquid form, every television executive in America would inject him.
It has gotten so out of hand that even Trump himself is mocking the media.
"Every time I go on television it's gotta be live!" he said at a recent Alabama rally that was being covered on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. "How come it always has to be live? Why don’t they just cover me like anybody else where they go the next day and they show little clips? Every time I speak it has to be live. It’s ridiculous, but it’s OK."
It's a safe bet that Trump's just fine with all the live coverage, but if the man you're covering takes over your airwaves and calls you ridiculous for how much you're covering him, shouldn't that make you pause for a moment? Shouldn't all of these journalists feel at least a little embarrassed about how openly Trump is using them?
If they are, they're not showing it. Trump is a celebrity waging a campaign that is almost entirely made up of attacks on other famous people. He's the perfect candidate for our ADHD age. It may be more responsible to give Trump a bit of a rest, but that won't lead to higher ratings or more page views. For now, Trump and the media have formed an unholy sort of alliance, a cynical partnership of mutual convenience. He gives them numbers, and in return they give him what amounts to millions of dollars of free publicity. Everyone's a winner.
If there is a lesson to be drawn from this sorry spectacle, it is this: The next time you see some millionaire pundit throw his hands up and say that, as much as he'd like to cover the issues, he has to go where the public mood is, remember how some of our top news outlets are handling the presidential election. When CNN decides that it is more important for you to listen to a former reality show contestant talk about Donald Trump than to revisit the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, CNN is making a very particular choice. When every single network is nothing but Trump all the time, they are making very particular choices too. The same, really, goes for all of us in the media. We can't get enough of Trump. But we seriously need to try.