Unfortunately, the Omarosa news bomb, coming on the heels of the Stormy Daniels circus, is a good example of why so many people believe the media traffics in “fake news.”
That term means many different things to many different people, of course. It originated as a description for entirely fictional stories planted by Russia on Facebook during the 2016 election. Then President Trump seized on it to deride mostly accurate media coverage he doesn’t like. But for many people, “fake news” is now a catchall reference to biased, misleading, or just plain ridiculous reporting.
Television news, with its contradictory need to either boil down a complicated story to a few minutes on the evening news, or expand a few key facts into multiple hours of coverage on the 24-hour news networks, has always been prone to trivialization, bias, and over-simplification. And the Trump presidency, which has compelled the media to take sides, has only exacerbated it.
Whether you think television news is fake depends almost entirely on your politics and what channel you’re watching. If you’re a liberal, you think Fox News is nothing but fake newsm and if you’re a conservative you’re convinced the rest of the TV landscape — starting with, but not limited to, MSNBC — is entirely agenda-driven in the other direction.
The Omarosa contretemps shows how far the profession of Edward R Murrow and Walter Cronkite has fallen. This is a woman who rose to fame as a villainess on a reality TV show. Until two weeks ago she was considered a national joke and unworthy of serious consideration.
And yet there she was on “Meet The Press,” once the destination for prime ministers, potentates, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairmen, political candidates, and other worthy but slightly dull newsmakers. And there she was on the prestige morning news shows. And there she was even on the staid and ever-so-proper “PBS NewsHour.” In the blink of an eye, she was transformed from a nutcase into a serious commentator on the Trump presidency.
The media justify giving Omarosa and her tell-all book the star treatment by saying she is a former senior White House advisor who can provide insight into President’s Trump’s views on race.
Yet the idea that Omarosa was an important White House official is dubious at best. She was the communications director for the White House Office of Public Liaison, which is usually a dumping ground for true believers who theoretically gin up support among special interest groups. To be the communications director for this department is hardly working at the pinnacle of power.
As for the rationale that Omarosa can now finger Trump as a racist, well, what can she tell us that we don’t already know? Half of America already believes that he’s an outright racist and doesn’t need Omarosa’s verification to solidify their views. The other half thinks that when you call Trump a racist you are also calling THEM racists and even the release of a tape of him saying a racial epithet won’t change their minds.
Ah, the tapes! Now we come to the crux of what makes this a great TV story — not an important story, but a compelling piece of tabloid trash that has been elevated to a media sensation. After all, who doesn’t get a frisson of excitement when listening to a surreptitiously taped conversation — even if we learn nothing new?
Omarosa has played her part well, stringing out her story by selectively leaking these secret recordings. But her biggest news hook has been her claim that the long-rumored tape of Donald Trump uttering the N-word actually does exist. Or that she heard the tape herself. Or that she heard him say it himself. Whatever. Something bad.
What’s striking about this claim is that on one of the very tapes she released from 2016, she is heard asserting to her colleagues that the N-word tape is real. In other words, despite believing he said such a thing, she remained on the campaign two years ago and even defended him against allegations of racism. As far as I can see, the only reason she changed her mind from thinking he was not a racist to thinking he was is that she got fired.
This focus on whether this tape exists has overshadowed a much more powerful Omarosa claim: that the president’s mental skills have deteriorated, an assertion she backs up by comparing Trump’s cognitive skills on “The Apprentice” to what they are now.
Everyone has already made us his or her mind as to whether Donald Trump is a racist, but an allegation that he has dementia is a line of attack that could potentially peel off wavering supporters.
Yet once again Donald Trump is lucky with his enemies. Omarosa and the news media are not only even less respected than he is — but they can’t even muster the one argument that could really hurt him.