It is the very rare day that I find myself agreeing with Newt Gingrich. In fact, this may be a first.
Speaking to the human-shaped nullities on “Fox & Friends” on Monday, the former Speaker of the House (and Stay Puft Marshmallow Man stunt double) placed part of the blame for the rise of Donald Trump squarely where it belongs: on the human-shaped nullities of “Fox & Friends.”
“The billionaire is spending the least amount of money and running away with this thing,” co-host Brian Kilmeade noted.
“That’s because of you guys,” Gingrich interrupted. “Donald Trump gets up in the morning, tweets to the entire planet at no cost, picks up the phone, calls you, has a great conversation for about eight minutes — which would have cost him a ton in commercial money. And meanwhile, his opponents are all out there trying to raise the money to run an ad.”
“Look, you can say that Trump is the candidate Fox & Friends invented,” Gingrich shot back. “He was on your show more than any other show.”
The context of this exchange was a discussion about how much Trump terrifies the GOP establishment. Kilmeade and co-host Steve Doocy are just shocked — shocked! — at what they are seeing in this primary. (Join the club, guys.) As Gingrich pointed out, even before he started running for president, Trump used to call into "Fox & Friends" once a week to gab about whatever thoughts were roiling the brain hidden under that cotton-candy toupee of his. Doocy, Kilmeade and former co-host Elizabeth Hasselbeck would nod along, prodding and goading him. Your investigators are finding all sorts of interesting facts about President Obama’s birth certificate? We should re-invade Iraq and take all its oil? Ha ha, Donald, you card!
This conversation was preceded on Sunday by NBC reporter Katy Tur’s tweet from a Trump rally in Georgia.
This has engendered all sorts of pearl-clutching from the media. Tur’s colleague Chuck Todd tweeted in response that “The campaign rhetoric needs to be ratcheted back. This is outrageous and dangerous behavior.” Which is sort of awkward coming from one of the most visible pundits employed by the same network whose morning-show hosts just put Trump through a thorough tongue-bath of a town hall on Friday night, and who are now fighting the perception that they are all but sleeping curled up at the foot of the candidate’s bed every night.
Whether or not Donald Trump wins the nomination — and if he does, God help us all — the post-campaign critiques of the media’s performance this cycle are going to be by turns brutal, awestruck and voluminous enough to keep media studies professors employed for decades. Exhibit number one will be not just “Fox and Friends,” but the entire Fox News Channel, which laid the groundwork for Trump’s scorched-earth jihad with years and years of telling its conservative viewers that the rest of the media was aligned against them -- that it thought they were a joke, a bunch of rubes in fly-over country not worth the attention of such high-minded cosmopolitans as Todd and Tur.
Of course Fox never meant to make the clown into the ringmaster, but that is exactly what has happened with Trump. He was good for entertainment, until he wasn’t. Once he got his followers to turn on the network, following his grilling during the first GOP debate, it was only a matter of time before Fox was lumped in with the rest of the media in the minds of his followers. Which is why Trump makes a point of putting a rhetorical bullseye on the press pen at all of his events. It gets him some cheap cheers.
There is no winning this fight. If you are openly hostile to Trump, he grows stronger. If you give him a gentle interview, allowing him to ramble on and on for minutes at a time in a monologue whose sentences resemble a word cloud, he grows stronger.
The problem is that of course the media needs Trump as well. (I include myself here; he’s been great material for more than a few columns.) His candidacy first looked like a trainwreck at which we could not stop gawking, or a mild diversion in the long primary season that would be good for some laughs before we had to settle into the business of covering the serious candidates.
But now the media resembles Victor Frankenstein, sickly and dying, chasing his lumbering creation across a savage Arctic wasteland. Only we don’t know how many pages are left in the novel. But we might be hurtling towards a dark ending. This was Gingrich’s wider point, which is why he sounded so smug on “Fox & Friends.” No fan of the media himself, it must give him a charge to tell off even his ideological allies like Doocy and Kilmeade. For once, he’s right.