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The media can’t live without Trump Viewing figures plummeted under Joe Biden

Get ready for another 'Trump Bump'. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Get ready for another 'Trump Bump'. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images


January 19, 2024   3 mins

Here we go again. About 30 minutes into counting the first votes of the Iowa caucus, the Associated Press, CNN, NBC and various other news networks called it for Donald Trump.

There was little doubt that the former president wasn’t going to dominate the rural state. But the rush to declare him the victor — in violation of policies that prohibit such calls before the polls close — was a blatant attempt to soak up the election night audience.

This followed another departure from traditional editorial practices when MSNBC and CNN refused to screen Trump’s victory speech. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, casting herself and her network as defenders of the republic, justified the unusual decision with typical, exaggerated commentary. Maddow said her network would suffer by “knowingly broadcasting untrue things”. The Iowa primary heralded “democracy falling to an authoritarian and potentially fascist form of government”. For his part, Jake Tapper of CNN suggested his network had to shield viewers from “anti-immigrant rhetoric”.

Trump responded in kind. “NBC and CNN refused to air my victory speech,” he said at a rally in New Hampshire the following day. “Think of it — because they are crooked. They’re dishonest, and frankly, they should have their licenses or whatever they have taken away.”

And with that, election season has started, along with the outrage cycle from which both Trump and legacy media reap mutual benefit. The more media outlets lean into partisan anti-Trump coverage, the more gleefully he campaigns against the media as a biased institution.

It’s a pattern that first took shape nine years ago, when Trump launched his campaign with a series of inflammatory statements. Mexican migrants are rapists! Ban all Muslim immigration! Why can’t I call women “fat pigs, slobs, and disgusting animals”? The extreme remarks rolled on.

In response, the media abandoned objectivity. Journalists inserted themselves into the story, often challenging Trump directly and darkly warning readers to oppose him. The New York Times and Washington Post broke tradition and used the words “lie” and “liar” on their splash to describe a presidential candidate. The media used any opportunity to present Trump in a negative light. MSNBC, despite its supposed rule against broadcasting falsehoods, reported salacious stories casting Trump as a Russian intelligence asset. The press pitted itself against the candidate. While popular on cable television, this approach is very much divorced from journalism that seeks to understand why voters were attracted to his message on trade, his unorthodox opposition to foreign military interventions, or the anger he mobilised against establishment elites.

Trump, for his part, embraced this approach, even encouraging his supporters to jeer the assembled journalists at his campaign rallies. “I think the political press is among the most dishonest people that I have ever met,” Trump would say, to be met with uproarious applause.

All decorum gone, the clashes drove record viewership and unprecedented profits for media corporations. Meanwhile, the endless anti-Trump headlines in the liberal media only made his point about bias, while also keeping him right at the heart of every story.

The profit dynamic was significant. In 2015, Les Moonves, then-chief of CBS News, was giddy with the Trump-driven audience. “Looking ahead,” he told investors, “the presidential election is right around the corner and, thank God, the rancour has already begun.” On another call, Moonves claimed the carnivalesque campaign was fueling “pretty phenomenal” political advertising revenue. “Go Donald! Keep getting out there!” he chuckled, according to a recording of the call.

The Washington Post and New Yorker enjoyed record circulation. MSNBC and CNN also claimed unprecedented viewership, finally outflanking Fox News, as each network competed for an audience hungry for Trump controversies — some of which, like the “Steele Dossier”, were outright fabrications. “The heightened political climate continues to benefit CNN,” John Martin, head of Turner, told the Financial Times.

Even the New York Times had a “Trump Bump”. Mark Thompson, then the Times’s chief executive, celebrated a continued revenue spike well after the campaign ended, as coverage of “exceptional news events, including the firing of James Comey”, helped add 109,000 new digital customers.

But with Biden came the Trump slump. The Washington Post lost nearly a third of its digital audience, and last October announced large cutbacks to its workforce. Viewership rates are down at all the major cable and television networks with NBC and MSNBC, just last week, reported yet another round of layoffs.

No wonder, then, that the anti-Trump narrative is rearing its head again. The Iowa coverage already points to what lies ahead, as Trump is described as a “psychopathic criminal” and his entire base built on a “cult of personality”. The media will again do battle in an attempt to prevent the former president from returning to the White House.

Paradoxically, though, this is bound to help, not hinder Trump’s campaign. In 2016, journalists were so distracted by the latest Trump Tweet that they paid no heed to the electorate, its deep frustration at the establishment and its longing for a change agent.

But such are the incentives, outlets are bound to overplay their hand again. The professional and financial advantages are such that non-partisan journalism is forgotten. The media will cast themselves as defenders of democracy and joust with Trump and his campaign, little realising that their crusade will lead him straight back to the White House.


Lee Fang is an investigative journalist and Contributing Editor at UnHerd. Read his Substack here.

lhfang

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Christopher
Christopher
6 months ago

Until the out if context play, you are fake media news.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
6 months ago

It’s a pattern that first took shape nine years ago…In response, the media abandoned objectivity.
*derisive snort*

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
6 months ago

The problem with this analysis is that it ignores the fact that everything the media said about Trump was true!

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
6 months ago

Really? Even that story about him actually being three third-graders in a trench coat? Because my gut tells me that one probably was, at minimum, an exaggeration.

Matthew Jones
Matthew Jones
6 months ago

Champers, you’re such a book burner!

starkbreath
starkbreath
6 months ago
Reply to  Matthew Jones

Exactly. AssPain Bolshevist is the online troll manifestation of the left wing media: a sycophantic, wilfully uninformed, brown nosing, mendacious parasite obsessed by a pathological lust for authoritarian power.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
6 months ago

True! Trump Bad! Biden Good! Voters Racist!

R Wright
R Wright
6 months ago

Even the Steele piss dossier?

J Bryant
J Bryant
6 months ago

This is one of those articles where to read the title is to read the entire article. I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
6 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Sappy. Or had.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
6 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

The author de-Fanged.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
6 months ago

Here’s a radical idea. How about our glorious media getting some journalists from a working-class background? Then we might occasionally get a different perspective on stuff, rather than the onanistic witterings of the high bourgeoisie.
Yes, I know, I know. But I can dream.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
6 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

Mister, we could use a man like Ernie Pyle again.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
6 months ago

Wouldn’t be no welfare state, everyone would pull their weight . . .

R E P
R E P
6 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

They are activists, not journalists, US corporate media is a joke with tiny viewerships dwarfed by people like Joe Rogan who allow both sides to speak…

Liakoura
Liakoura
6 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

“Working-class representation in UK journalism has hit a record low. A report released in 2022 found a staggering 80% of journalists come from professional and upper-class backgrounds, and while race and gender representation had improved in recent years, social class was the only factor surveyed where the UK news industry is getting increasingly unequal over time…”
https://www.journalismfestival.com/programme/2023/where-are-the-working-class-journalists

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
6 months ago

They don’t even pretend to be objective. Working on behalf on their Democrat overlords, the regime media is hellbent on turning everyone into Trump fans.

Buena Vista
Buena Vista
6 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Much like Fang’s screed from last week, this piece is steeped in “both sides” rhetoric, and it’s simply wrong.
The offense starts with the media, and it ends there. Trump is their victim.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
6 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

I’ve never been a fan of Donald Trump. Even back in the 90’s the guy came across to me as a shyster or a carnival barker, hawking his book or whatever other scheme he was trying to make money with. I still regard him the same way, but as low as my regard for the man was and is, I found the outsized, hyperbolic, almost frothing reaction to him was even worse and more distasteful. Trump will eventually, finally leave the public sphere, even if that only happens when he shuffles off this mortal coil. My distrust in the media, and that of millions of other independent voters, however, will remain. The media has no idea how much responsibility they bear for creating this Trump vs. establishment dynamic. Their reaction is the reason Trump’s movement will all but certainly outlast the man himself.

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
6 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Even after a relatively impressive Presidency?

R E P
R E P
6 months ago
Reply to  Peter Lee

A total lack of wars is not impressive to the MIC…

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
6 months ago
Reply to  Peter Lee

Presidents get both too much credit and too much blame for the things they don’t control, like the economy, and not enough for the things they actually do control, like foreign policy and military excursions. Biden wasn’t responsible for the inflation. Inflation was the price of three decades of low interest rates and the government spending like drunken sailors and then shipping jobs overseas so lower labor costs held down inflation. It was time to finally pay the piper, and we’re not close to done paying. I’ll grant that Biden was a part of that, but just one relatively small part of an epic fail that spanned both parties and a couple of generations of leaders.
I concede that Trump did keep the US out of foreign military excursions, so kudos for that, but I can only give so much credit for not being blatantly stupid, He did let the military assassinate that one Iranian general though, which we had no business doing no matter how awful he was. Most of their policies broadly aren’t that different. Biden actually continued the China tariffs and doubled down on tech sanctions. They both opposed Nordstream 2 and pushed NATO nations to spend more on their military. I prefer Biden’s less confrontational, less bombastic approach, but that’s just me.
I will concede that based on actual policies rather than personality, Trump is preferable to most everyone else in my lifetime. I liked Obama’s personality and demeanor but I did not like his policies at all. I consider him a sellout to the establishment who promised change and gave us a crappy healthcare law written by insurance companies to lock in their profits forever. Trump at least is unlikely to do anything like that. He’s not going to bail out corporations or start a bunch of pointless wars then stick around for no good reason like Bush. I consider him tied with Clinton as the best President since Reagan, but that’s not saying much. I don’t care for Biden or Trump enough to vote for either one. Might vote for RFK Jr. or Manchin if he runs. I suppose I have higher expectations of a leader than either of the likely candidates.

R E P
R E P
6 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

They lead the party…but coordinate to ensure unanimity of message. They have shot their own credibility over the last 8 years.

Saul D
Saul D
6 months ago

Watching opinion polls numbers I get a sense of growing disengagement with politics and political drama among women and younger people in the US. I can’t prove it, but there seems to be a widened gap between male and female interest/knowledge in political events.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
6 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

Not this woman.

Sensible Citizen
Sensible Citizen
6 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

The difference between male and female voters is that female voters get their news from Joy Behar and Rachel Maddow. They will, once again, run to the Biden side of the ship. Middle-aged, affluent, stay-at-home women day drink box wine and virtue signal on social media, in between self-care, navel gazing, and complaining about their husbands six figure pittance.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
6 months ago

Yes, it does seem like that. Laziness – he’ll kill the spiders, he’ll fix the leaky toilet – are everything wrong with how we vote.
That said, I spent today with my husband drinking ice cold champagne and watching the first season of Sharpe for the fourth time (read all the books when I was pregnant with our son).
Not all of us are ludicrous, but many would benefit from a bit ‘o rough.

Matt M
Matt M
6 months ago

I heartily recommend this week’s episode of Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson. Legal scholars John Yoo and Richard Epstein run through the background and likely outcomes of the Trump lawsuits.
Their verdict: the NYC one about property valuations and the Atlanta racketeering one are baseless and dead in the water.
The Mar-a-Lago one for obstruction revolving around confidential documents might succeed but is pretty minor and would inevitably lead to H Clinton and J Biden being prosecuted for similar (worse) misdemeanours.
The Jan 6th one is ludicrous and guaranteed to fail.
The SC will not uphold Trump’s defence (which is scheduled for a ruling) that sitting presidents are immune. But they may uphold his double-jeopardy argument that he was tried for insurrection by Congress in the second impeachment and was acquitted (the lawyers were split on this).
What was most interesting was that they both thought there was a good chance that the SC would rule that the Jan 6 rioters/hostages 🙂 should not have been charged with crimes under the Sarbennes-Oxley act and their convictions might be struck down. Wouldn’t that be something?

Bryan Dale
Bryan Dale
6 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

If the Supreme Court doesn’t uphold presidential immunity, it will be a cataclysmic change in the law that will have dire consequences for past and future presidents. They might dislike president Trump but their judgment has to reflect the impact on all presidents.

Sensible Citizen
Sensible Citizen
6 months ago
Reply to  Bryan Dale

If Trump wins, this administration has left a lot of loaded weapons lying around that could very well be pointed at them for four years.

Matt M
Matt M
6 months ago
Reply to  Bryan Dale

I think it depends what you are immune from. Listen to the show – it is very enlightening.

Peter B
Peter B
6 months ago
Reply to  Bryan Dale

Why exactly ? Why do you think presidential immunity is a good idea ? It seems like a terrible idea to me. One might almost conclude from experiences in France and Italy over the passt few decades that it actually encourages criminal activity.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
6 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

the NYC one has already succeeded? The court found that he’s a fraud.
I recommend you read the law article “The Sweep and Force of Section Three”. The 14th amendment case is the most interesting one.

Sensible Citizen
Sensible Citizen
6 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

The SCOTUS has not heard an appeal on the NYC property valuation judgment. I don’t think the ruling can be appealed before Engeron arrives at a penalty. The penalty will be high enough to cripple or bankrupt the Trump organization, so that is another DNC loaded weapon that can be pointed at any enemy corporation. The SCOTUS will almost certainly not let a corrupt judge take down a multi-billion-dollar company and upend the banking sector in NYC.

Matt M
Matt M
6 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Listen to the podcast/ watch on YouTube. Very interesting.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
6 months ago

I’ve said this for a long time. They want Trump. They need Trump. He is their oxygen. Take him out of the equation and they might have to resort to news coverage, though I doubt it would be worth much.
Maddow said her network would suffer by “knowingly broadcasting untrue things”. 
Her network has already suffered from a history of doing that, and she’s been involved in it. Anyone recall how Hunter’s laptop was cast as Russian disinformation? How about the serial appearances there and on CNN by Michael Avenatti and his accusation of a Supreme Court nominee having engaged in serial sexual assaults? And there is the “collusion” hoax that dragged forever. It’s a wonder lightning didn’t strike after her claim.
ï»ż

starkbreath
starkbreath
6 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

That would’ve been the best TV moment ever.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
6 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Rachel Maddow is a not-stupid person who will often say stupid things. Perhaps knowingly so. (Does she really not know a Glock pistol can be detected by a scanner even though it has a polymer frame? Yet she has insisted it cannot.) “. . . suffer by ‘knowingly broadcasting untrue things’.” Just precious. So, therefore, a speech cannot be reported in a news broadcast if it is less than 100% certain that every single statement in it is true? A documentary on the Third Reich could not portray Hitler’s promise to annihilate the Jews because the speech in which he said it contains falsehoods, and to quote them would be to endorse them? This is simply special pleading; it is not a journalistic standard.

R Wright
R Wright
6 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

I won’t allow anyone to say the name ‘Michael Avenatti’without the title Creepy Porn Lawyer.

Daniel P
Daniel P
6 months ago

Here is what these morons in the MSM should pay attention to.

I pay $50 a year for The Free Press

I pay the same for Matt Taibbi

I pay the same for Glenn Greenwald

I pay here.

I get weekly and even daily offers from the NYT and the Wapo for dollar a week deals with months free and I have never once considered clicking on “sign me up”.

I canceled my cable subscription 7 yrs ago. I used to only keep it for the morning news channels, CNBC, and ESPN. But I now see no value whatever in having CNN, FOX, MSNBC, I can get the business news from Bloomberg or CNBC online and ESPN is best served at the barber shop or a bar. I can stream anything else.

Just saying.

Sensible Citizen
Sensible Citizen
6 months ago
Reply to  Daniel P

You make a very good point. My media cost is well over $100 a year. I try not to add it up. We’ll probably both subscribe to Tucker when he’s up, and that won’t likely be cheap. But information is king.

Benjamin Greco
Benjamin Greco
6 months ago

Is anyone really surprised that the corporations that have chased profits for decades, turning our civilization into a technological soulless hellscape will now profit mightily from our demise. Under neo-liberal capitalism event the end of the world must be profitable.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
6 months ago

Mr. Fang, what you’re discovering is that we can and do live without what used to be “the media”. I don’t think I’ve watched television “news” since 2001. Stopped reading the New York Times in the late 90s.

There are so many other ways to access information from all sides that the old model – a corrupt and desiccated thing populated by callow children who thought Twitter was real life – even the Evil Trump colossus of its own making can’t save.

I suggest those who still participate in this farcical non-profession learn an honest trade.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
6 months ago

What if the Salvation Army picked up journalists from the gutter and set them on another path in life . . . ?

William Shaw
William Shaw
6 months ago

The media does not provide journalism, it engages in advocacy
 telling what is good and bad for us.
They’ve abandoned the goal of being impartial.

Sensible Citizen
Sensible Citizen
6 months ago

Two observations:
The Iowa landslide occurred in a caucus where IDs were mandatory, using paper ballots, and the votes were counted same day. Speaks volumes about the invalidity of the 2020 and 2022 elections.Black men (especially) are hypersensitive to DoJ abuses. Trump will win an historic percentage of black male votes. Black women get their news from Sunny Hostin, so they are a lost cause.

Peter Shaw
Peter Shaw
6 months ago

One year into Trump’s first year as POTUS, the main headline on the BBC website one afternoon stated : ‘ Trump boards Airforce One with paper
stuck on shoe’.

That confirmed to me that journalism in the UK was dead.

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
6 months ago

Does the same left-wing journalism exist in the UK?
It is totally beyond my comprehension how Rachael can go on MSCN night after night and tell the most bald faced lies with such a straight face. How does she live with herself?

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
6 months ago

simply dissolve the media, and get another

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago

Does anyone remember the warning messages a few years back when newspapers and other media started to become “corporate” owned? Were there bad influences and yellow journalism before? Yes, there was. This makes those times look pretty tame in comparison. It must be tough to be an authentic journalist these days. As for myself, I still love community papers where the editors actually get paid to dump on everyone equally. What a great job that has to be!