Whatever your opinion of the man, President Donald Trump has been a payday for certain media companies, thanks to his penchant — make that talent — for creating unremitting controversy.
Execs from The New York Times and The Washington Post have both credited growing audience and digital subscriptions to greater interest in politics, spurred by the man in The White House or Mar-a-Lago.
It’s great that increased civic engagement can help the bottom line for at least a few big newspaper publishers, especially at a time when publishers are under financial siege. Making people pay for content is entirely reasonable.
But as we have seen several times during this unusually active hurricane season, the same newspapers, motivated by feelings of civic duty and probably some profit motive as well, periodically lower their paywalls when an event of such a magnitude occurs — or might occur — that affects the national interest.
The events which prompt the newspapers to grant special, temporary free access are rarely, if ever, good.
Frequently, they are natural disasters. However, hurricanes or earthquakes aren’t the only events of existential importance. The question now, following Donald Trump’s threat to “totally destroy North Korea” in a speech to the United Nations on Tuesday, is whether his major addresses also justify lowering the digital paywalls.
This might sound a bit melodramatic. But during an armed standoff, with a threat of sudden escalation hanging in the air, the possibility of nuclear war is very real.
No one would disagree that nuclear war is an issue of profound existential importance, even to people who aren’t direct victims. The ensuing global chaos would affect their well-being in a primary way. And in a hair-trigger situation, it is not beyond the realm of the imagination that some ill-considered words from a man given to bluster might set in motion a series of events ending in disaster.
It should be noted that Trump added the total destruction of North Korea would be “hopefully unnecessary.” Many sympathetic analysts will doubtless portray the threat itself as a typical Trump trick, a rhetorical gambit that occurs in the context of some hard-driving negotiations behind the scenes.
Let’s hope so!
Assuming the worst-case scenario remains a possibility, newspapers may consider whether their civic duty extends this far on future occasions when the president addresses North Korea.