Too much news coverage of Trump is just sound and fury, signifying nothing

There’s way too much attention to his tweets, not enough to what he’s actually doing

Published August 7, 2020 4:59AM (EDT)


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In the latest wave of Donald Trump tweets, he was again asking for attention to him rather than to any of the dozens of issues before us, chief of which is that we now are moving toward 155,000 Americans dead because this government has not solidly dealt with coronavirus.

In his statements, Trump attacked the testimony of chief government virologist Dr. Anthony Fauci, to threaten, then back off delaying the elections, throwing shade again at mailed (but not absentee) ballots, threatening to ban Tik Tok (he didn't) and to announce that his re-nomination ceremony will now be a private affair closed to press and public.

They all will disappear shortly, replaced by new look-at-me vanity tweets that don't actually create policy, bring Americans together or solve any public problems. Beyond that, I'm left wondering how any of these help his political campaign?

Let's start with the Republican National Convention, which, like its opposite number, is an outdated, glorified pep rally intended to spread party propaganda on public airwaves for four days running. How does closing the convention to press and cameras help him, other than taking away images that both parties must face that look different from balloon-drop excess of the past, signifying nothing.

It's clear that Trump hates the press except for his need to preen before the cameras. Somehow, he thinks that closing down coverage will present a problem for journalists.

My take is that finally, journalists and networks need not enslave themselves to promoting the giggles and campaign hats of conventioneers, and that home viewers will be spared days of endless non-news coverage. If only the networks will realize that this is a bonus rather than an obstacle, we'd all be better off.

Indeed, perhaps the networks should not be showing Trump live at five daily unless he actually has something to say that is noteworthy. Of course, by Sunday afternoon, the RNC and the White House were backtracking: They may want cameras. Stay tuned.

Reporting the news

I once worked in local news reporting where a veteran colleague dutifully attended a city council meeting, returned and filed a one-sentence report that editors found unacceptably abbreviated: The City Council met Tuesday night in a routine session. That's it. Watchdog role fulfilled.

Somewhere along the line in our democracy, things got turned around for news outlets. It used to be that we would go where the news happened, or where reporters could dig into documents and interview enough people to show that there was a gap between what was said and what was actually being done. Lots of that still gets done, of course, but along with cable television news, 24-hour talk radio and social media, we got something else: Endless chatter about the chatter. Meta-politics and Meta-governing, the politics about the politics and policies, not examinations of what actually gets done.

Somehow, because we in the media are there to watch the government and political leaders in action, the assumption is that it must be important. Maybe Trump just provided us with justification to cover his re-nomination tersely too, without bells and whistles, insider conventioneer reports that mean nothing, lots of flashbulbs and videos of hoopla rather than substance.

Write about the speech he gives, and call it a day. The actions of the 366 delegates on Aug. 24 in Charlotte voting proxies for 2,500 colleagues is a foregone conclusion, and there's no drama about keeping Mike Pence at his side.

But instead of talking about how coronavirus is about to cancel re-opened sports, or frightening parents and teachers across the country about under-prepared school re-openings, we're served up reports about how this latest Trump move represents the first party nominating convention in modern history to be closed to reporters.

Disregarding the tweets

It was for just such reasons that most serious news outlets started ignoring individual Trump tweets — even though they are now serving as official government recording of what this administration is saying. It had gotten old fast, and quickly had reached a saturation point where no one tweet or statement actually stood out as news.

So, Trump has amped his volatility — the topics are more and more outrageous, less and less realistic ore relevant or believable. In the vast majority of cases, Trump retreats within hours.

Thus, he only wanted to highlight the possibilities of illegalities and fraud in ballots mailed to homes, as opposed to absentee ballots, which are also mailed to homes. Or he needed to remind Dr. Fauci for the 200th time that the virus case count has only increased as tests for the disease have increased — a statement ludicrous on its face since it does not explain hospitalization and deaths, and seemingly more silly for coming just as Science was triumphing with excellent engineering required for a manned space visit and safe return of astronauts. Likewise, Trump's threats about withholding funds from school districts that do no open have gone flat, and his wishy-washiness about mask-wearing has resulted in the deaths of people he knows.

On the other hand, he is damaging the post office, presumably to help make his mail ballots fraud theories into fact, and he has managed to hide daily updates of coronavirus hospitalizations, per Pro Publica.

OK, I plead guilty to writing about another individual tweet to keep his convention closed. But it seems to serve no one, and I can't imagine that many people care. It certainly will not prompt any change in voting.

Besides, he will drop this in time to ensure that there are cameras at his re-nomination — so long as all can assure that the lighting will be good for his orange tone.

By Terry H. Schwadron

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