I don’t write about President John F Kennedy at all and I then manage two posts about the King of Camelot in the same day (here’s number one).
Yesterday, talking to BBC Radio 4’s World This Weekend programme, Niall Ferguson described a president who was using back-channels to talk to the Kremlin… who was having an affair with a girlfriend embroiled in the mafia… and of destabilising plans to invade a southern neighbour… you can listen to the historian’s words yourself via the clip below… and apologies for spoiling the dramatic effect. He was, of course, talking about JFK and not DJT – and the importance of examining what presidents do, at least as much as what they say.
I’m no defender of Donald Trump (eg here) but there is something important in Professor Ferguson’s criticism of the media for focusing so much on what he says (and Tweets) and hardly at all on what his administration does. If you’re going to give 92% of time on your channel to Mr Trump, at least try and go deep and probe what General Mattis is doing at the Pentagon or Steve Mnuchin is doing at the Treasury.
A legitimate question that fits unHerd’s critique of the entertainment news industry is this: Who is more trivial – the president who Tweets (and lets Mattis, Mnuchin etc govern) or the media that endlessly covers his Tweets? And covers his Tweets at the expense of illuminating reporting of either what is being done by his administration or, indeed, of events beyond TrumpWorld?
FiveLive’s Pienaar’s Politics on the Trump presidency yesterday was a good example of public dis-service broadcasting. The normally excellent Mr Pienaar was likening Trump to Kim Jong-un and, displaying their ignorance, his guests were noting that when even Steve Bannon was opposing military action against North Korea it really was beyond-the-pale. Anyone who understood Bannonism would know that dove-ishness is core to his creed.
PS The YouTube above is just a short clip of what Niall Ferguson said to the BBC’s Mark Mardell during the course of a longer interview. Listen to the whole thing on the iPlayer from 19 mins, 40 secs onwards. And hat off to Mark Mardell for not constantly interrupting; when you have an interesting and articulate guest, let them be interesting and articulate.
PPS Niall was a key contributor to UnHerd’s recent podcast that, presented by Juliet Samuel, explored the crisis of confidence in western capitalism. Listen here.