I’m in the media elite, and you’re not

How Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer and I helped elect Trump

By Lucian K. Truscott IV


Published December 6, 2017 7:00PM (EST)

Charlie Rose; Matt Lauer; Donald Trump (AP/Getty/Salon)
Charlie Rose; Matt Lauer; Donald Trump (AP/Getty/Salon)

Peconic Bay scallops are in season again out here in Sag Harbor. We wait all year long for the bay men to take to the water in their skiffs and dredges, returning to shore with a bounty that’s unique to this region. Sautéed with a little butter and lemon, these pearly little pillows actually do melt in your mouth like bursts of sea foam. The word delicacy doesn’t quite do the tender morsels justice. But bay scallops are only one reason we live out here on the east end of Long Island.

Another reason we live out here is because we’re in the Hamptons, famed for its sandy beaches, acres of potato fields, hedge lined drives, shingled mansions and acres of Ralph Lauren boutiques. Striding along the brick sidewalks of East Hampton or Southampton, you pass at least one of the things on every block. And liberals. You pass lots and lots of liberals out here in the Hamptons. I should know, because I’m one of them. I passed Matt Lauer on the street not long ago, but that was before . . . ooops, I’m getting ahead of myself. Suffice it to say, I pass liberals like me every day because there are almost as many of us as there are Ralph Lauren boutiques.

Yet another reason we live out here is because the Hamptons are as close as you can get to a headquarters of the elite media establishment. It’s why we need so many Ralph Lauren boutiques out here, so we can buy our plaid lumber jack shirts and artfully distressed blue jeans and pre-aged scuffed leather jackets and Indiana Jones fedoras and blend in with the rest of America out there to the west of us in what is described as “flyover country,” because you actually have to fly over it in order to get to L.A. or San Francisco or Seattle, where there are also lots and lots of Ralph Lauren boutiques and all the liberals you would expect to go along with them. And elite media to boot — L.A. is home to the motion picture and television industries, after all, and San Francisco houses the crème de la crème of the digital media world, and Seattle is of course the headquarters of Amazon, owned by liberal ninja Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, famed as a bastion of the elite media, and Bill Gates of Microsoft, who is busy using his tens of billions to solve world hunger and AIDS and Sudanese poverty and whatever other problems we liberal media types believe are out there being ignored by the rest of the world, most especially, by conservatives.

Maybe geography explains it — everybody in the elite media establishment wanting to live on the coasts, to be close to Peconic bay scallops and Dungeness crabs and Pacific Northwest salmon — not to mention the beaches and hedge lined drives, and out here in the Hamptons, all those acres of neatly groomed lawns where we can go to each other’s lawn parties. Attendance at the right lawn parties is absolutely essential to maintain your status in the elite media.

I know this, because during my early years in the elite media establishment, I used to be invited to these lawn parties. Back then, I knew columnists for major newsweeklies who broke down sobbing when they found themselves dropped from a place at the table at one of Nora Ephron’s dinner parties, or left off the list of invitees to Ben Bradlee’s and Sally Quinn’s annual banned-books party over in East Hampton at their meticulously renovated estate which had once been Big and Little Edie Bouvier Beale’s Grey Gardens.

East Hampton, after all, is where Hillary Clinton is said to have spent three weeks last August raising money at liberal lawn party fund raisers – three weeks during which Donald Trump barnstormed the country, bellowing at stadiums full of red-hatted supporters screaming “build that wall” at one rally after another, and apparently gathering votes.

That’s one of the problems, isn’t it? The seductiveness of it all — the grassy expanses of candle-lit Hamptons backyards, padding along Beverly Hills palm-fronded pool-sides, evenings atop Nob Hill with the Golden Gate peeking out of the fog, cocktails in minimalist modern great rooms overlooking Lake Washington and the Space Needle. Remember that line out of the old Mel Brooks movie – “It’s good to be the king”? Well, I can tell you from 50 years as a card-carrying member, it’s been good to be in the elite media establishment.

Until it’s not.

Last year — and this year, too, for that matter — we in the elite media find ourselves reviled by a significant part of the American public out there in fly-over land. A recent Harvard-Harris poll found that 65 percent of the public think that there is a lot of fake news in the mainstream media, including 80 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of Democrats. A September Gallup poll found that only 32 percent of Americans have a “great deal or fair amount of trust in the media,” the lowest level of trust in the media in Gallup poll history. The same poll found only 14 percent of Republicans trust the media, while 51 percent of Democrats do. Another Gallup poll illustrated the gap in trust in the media, with only 14 percent of Republicans believing the media gets the facts right versus 62 percent of Democrats. An October poll by Politico found that almost half of the public, 46 percent, believe the media makes up stories about President Trump, with 71 percent of Republicans holding this view, versus only 20 percent of Democrats.

That’s why Trump was able to hit the hustings last year and weaponize the mainstream media as a campaign issue. Distrust of the media was out there waiting for him in auditorium after auditorium, state after state. I watched last April in an old Grumman aircraft hanger in Bethpage, Long Island, as Trump whipped the crowd into a frenzy right there in the mainstream media’s backyard. He stood up there bellowing that they couldn’t trust the “lying media,” denouncing “fake news,” singling out NBC’s Katy Tur in a fenced-off press enclosure which had been erected to isolate Katy and the rest of us as a target. “Look over there at Little Katy Tur,” Trump bellowed. They roared.

But why? What had Katy Tur, or any of the rest of us for that matter, done to earn such derision? Certainly not falsifying stories and making up sources, as Trump claimed. That would have cost anyone in that press enclosure their jobs. Then what was it?

The truth is, we didn’t have to do a thing. They already hated us. And just look at the reaction out there in flyover land as one elite media standard bearer after another bit (and will continue to bite) the dust in the fallout from the sexual harassment scandals. They were preceded by the downfall of conservative media standard-bearers like Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes. Bill and Roger weren’t the ones Trump had in mind when he railed against the elite media last year, even though they rode around in very elite black cars and flew on marvelously elite private corporate jets and sucked down exceedingly elite multi-million dollar fortunes from their perches at Fox News, owned by the mega-elite billionaire media kingpin Rupert Murdoch.

No, Trump had others in mind — people like NBC’s Katy Tur, his convenient female target on the campaign trail, and his nemesis The New York Times, and the hated Washington Post, and of course the cable news shows on MSNBC and CNN and the major networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC. The audiences at his campaign rallies knew exactly who he was talking about when he excoriated the elite mainstream media. Their distrust had been fed by two decades of propaganda on Fox, by thousands of hours of screeching by Rush Limbaugh, by digital page after page after page of Drudge and Breitbart and Red State posts.

But there was something else out there bothering them as well, not as loud, not as obvious, but there just the same: an imperiousness that was summed up perfectly by the way "Saturday Night Live" used to announce its “Weekend Update” news segment in its early years. “Good evening. I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not,” the SNL cast member would intone with mock seriousness, before lampooning the way that the nightly news was presented on the major networks. It was a pitch-perfect takedown of the high and mighty attitude of the news anchors of that time, and could be applied just as accurately — and bitingly — to any of the elite talking heads taking up airtime on the networks today, cable, major or otherwise.

That’s the thing about elites. They are “elite” for two main reasons — because there can, as a practical matter, be only a limited number of them, but mainly because they act like elites. Watching Charlie Rose on his blacked-out set was an exercise in witnessing the “I am, and you’re not” attitude writ large. The furrowed brow. The deep, dulcet tones of questions presented so seriously they practically dripped in gravitas. And who did Charlie have on his show again and again? Why, he invited his elite media pals, that’s who! Walter Isaacson, former managing editor of Time and chairman of CNN, currently ensconced as president of the Aspen Institute, from which perch he can invite his friends — like Charlie Rose — to all-expense-paid summer sojourns to, yes, Aspen, where they can intone seriously on serious panels discussing such serious topics as World Peace, and Whither the Middle East.

It didn’t matter that Walter never had an original idea, that every time he opened his mouth something straight from the editorial page of The New York Times issued forth. Nor did it matter that Charlie’s other pal, Jon Meacham, former editor of Newsweek and Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Andrew Jackson, carried his “on the one hand” this and “on the other hand” that “analysis” of the Major Questions of Our Day to new heights of inanity in Charlie’s darkened lair. What mattered was that he was Charlie, and you weren’t. Walter was Walter, and you weren’t. Jon was Jon, and you weren’t. And you were expected to treat the dithering that issued forth on the Charlie Rose Show as if their words were being delivered on stone tablets from Mount Charlie.

Charlie Rose was such an exemplar of all that was good and noble about the elite media that his talents couldn’t be tucked away in his dark studio forever. No, the elite media powers that be in New York brought Charlie into the sun of "60 Minutes" and an anchor slot on "CBS This Morning." All of this was before it was revealed in recent weeks that Charlie was fond of exposing himself to young female staffers he sought out at work while “mentoring” them.

But it’s not the sexual peccadillos of either Charlie Rose or Matt Lauer that Donald Trump was playing off of last year as he campaigned for president on a platform consisting mainly of building that wall and bashing the media. He didn’t even have to say it out loud that these guys, and other elite media figures, were being presented to the great unwashed masses out there in flyover country as Serious People — the kind of figures you should Respect and Hold in High Regard. I don’t know what Charlie Rose was getting paid — I've seen figures as high as $2.5 million, and that seems about right — but Matt Lauer is said to have had a contract worth more than $20 million for his genius turn on NBC’s “Today” playing the avuncular co-host and learning to flip omelets. The money alone sent the message. We’re Charlie and Matt, and you’re not. And who were they, really? Well, behind the scenes, we now know that in addition to being sexual predators, they were short-tempered arrogant bullies and prima donnas. So was Mark Halperin, who served as a “news analyst” on "Morning Joe" until he was found to be one of the elite media’s sexual harassers. So were Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes. In fact, you could have identified the sexual abusers and harassers very easily by who screamed at subordinates at work and generally acted like a privileged asshole. O’Reilly: abuser? Check. Screamer? Check. Privileged asshole? Check. Ailes: abuser? Check. Screamer? Check. Privileged asshole? Check. Rose: abuser? Check. Screamer? Check. Privileged asshole? Check. And so on.  

The resentment and anger against media elites Trump has been able to exploit was out there long before Trump, and it’ll remain there after he’s gone. The elite media has done little to earn the love of the masses out there in flyover country, other than simply doing its job and getting the facts right. But apparently, that’s not sufficient anymore. In the age of Trump, just being part of the elite is enough, and there’s very little we can do about that, is there? After all, I’m Lucian Truscott, and you’re not. That’s a fact, and a problem, for us all.

By Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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