While it may make me throw up a little in my mouth just to write his name in the same sentence with this trio of political titans, it is indeed true: As FDR was to radio, JFK was to TV and Obama was to Facebook, the Donald is to the media-everywhere universe.
Tuning in and streaming the Republican’s Cleveland confab, I’m reminded of Molly Ivins’ comment about Pat Buchanan’s fiery master-race diatribe keynote at the 1992 Republican convention, when the late great Texas pundit quipped that Buchanan’s speech “probably read better in the original German.” I’d paraphrase that to what I’ve seen spewing forth from Cleveland. For me, the whole tragic, high-stakes political comedy playing out on my phone, computer and TV would have more authenticity if it was in German with English subtitles.
The ubiquity of so many screens, so many platforms—and Trump’s belief that no press is bad press—is what has put him in a once-unfathomable race for the highest office in the land. So many outlets so hungry for eyeballs have made it remarkably easy for The Donald to repeat his “truthful hyperbole” seemingly wherever and whenever he has the inclination to tweet, enter a studio or speed-dial the folks at “Face the Nation.”
Indeed, “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson was recently asked by the New York Times about the eight times he’s found himself in an impromptu phone interview with Trump, while in the past such shows have required candidates to actually “face” the nation. Dickerson was quick with his response, saying, “It’s more important to have the news out there, whether it comes by phone or semaphore flags or any other method.” He then added that if other candidates won’t avail themselves of the opportunities out there, “that’s on them.”
Of course that’s a none-too-veiled message to Hillary Clinton, who is much more parsimonious about giving access to the press than Trump. The premise is that if only Hillary had ripped a page from The Donald’s playbook—certainly her challenger for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, ultimately did—she might have walked away with the nomination instead of it having been a real horse race.
Then again, is there a guarantee that it would have worked for her in the same way? So much of the media was enamored with the ratings and revenue Trump tallied that much of his inflated claims and even outright lies were half-heartedly challenged or let go altogether. Not surprisingly, that became much less the case once The Donald had a lock on the nomination. Of course, that’s when most of his demon dialing and in-studio appearances happened primarily in the friendlier environs of Fox News.
With screens in front of us seemingly 24/7, we’ve sadly watched this become an incredibly powerful, effective way of countering the truth. As CNN’s Brian Stelter recently noted, it’s business as usual that “when confronted by factual inaccuracies,” Trump “denies reality.”
Stelter made that comment in the wake of denials of Trump’s wife Melania’s obvious plagiarism of Michele Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic gathering—the latest in a long list of falsehoods. Trump is taking a page out of chief Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels’ playbook, where it was suggested that even if you’re challenged by an aggressive Fourth Estate, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Then there’s this historical addendum to that rule: Not only will the people believe it, they’ll also defend it.
How effective are liberal media strategies at getting Trump supporters to realize their man isn’t the voice of truthiness? They’re a waste of air against the brand that celebrates a candidate who “tells it like it is,” whatever the “it” means.
I fear theory carries more weight than ever in the current media-everywhere echo chamber. If there’s a counterbalance to it all, the tools are there for all to use, not just The Donald. I guess we will know on Nov. 8 if the digital truth or the “big lie” will out.