The Baltimore brouhaha: Trump is an attention whore and the media are complicit

President Trump threw out the lure last Saturday and the media leaped at it like steelhead going after spinners. For almost a week now, the the media has been salivating over the Cummings/Baltimore story, playing right into Trump’s hands.

Spinning-fishing-for-steelhead

I’m sure that Trump, a manipulative narcissist if there ever was one, has been absolutely loving it.

“Rep, Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has been a brutal bully, shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE and more dangerous. His district is considered the Worst in the USA…..,,” Trump Tweeted to start it all..

“….As proven last week during a Congressional tour, the Border is clean, efficient & well run, just very crowded,” Trump continued. “Cumming District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.”

According to Politico’s Daniel Lippman, despite Trump’s public anti-media screeds, he religiously reads four daily newspapers — The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, as well was a daily print-out of the Drudge Report, all of which have covered the Cummings/Baltimore contretemps like a thick blanket.

Thankfully, at least one outlet, the babylonbee.com, a satirical news site, has approached he whole tempest as a joke with stories such as, Futuristic, Utopian Paradise Of Baltimore Completely Baffled By Trump’s Attacks:

“BALTIMORE, MD—President Trump launched into a deranged attack against the city of Baltimore, calling it “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and a place “no human being would want to live.” This caused extreme confusion within the city — as, having been run exclusively by Democrats for decades and decades, it is a nearly perfect, progressive utopia and a beacon of hope to all.”

But most news outlets have pursued the Cummings/Baltimore stories with the kind of moral outrage and hand-wringing usually reserved for stories of great import.

The New York Times, for example, has been all over the story, with headlines like, “The Rot You Smell is a Racist Potus,” “Trump Accuses Black Congressman and Allies of Being Racist,” and “Some very Specific Things the President Could do to Help Baltimore.”

The Times went so far as to run a story featuring Trevor Noah of The Daily Show defending Baltimore and Fox News asked Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Tavon Austin, who grew up in Baltimore, what he thought about Trump’s comments. Even though Austin said he hadn’t even read Trump’s comments about Baltimore, Fox gave him an opportunity to opine on the city’s tough times.

On the Sunday, July 28 talk shows, commentators couldn’t stay away from the topic, relishing the chance to fulminate ad nauseam about Trump, racism, inequality, inner-city troubles, etc.

Tuesday evening’s network news shows continued with one quoting Trump saying that living in Baltimore is like “living in hell” and interviewing residents for their reactions.

Online news outlets have latched onto the story too. On Tuesday, The Bulwark, an American conservative news and opinion website, ran a 1048-word story, Republicans Can Defend Elijah Cummings Any Time Now. Huffpost has gone wild with Cummings/Baltimore stories, too, posting eight different stories just on Tuesday.

And the whole thing has presented an opportunity for all sorts of detestable people to raise their profile, aided and abetted by the media. For example, Al Sharpton, who shows up repeatedly at hot spots like Nadia Vulvokov in the Netflix series Russian Doll, has jumped on the Cummings/Baltimore flap.

At a Monday news conference in Baltimore with former Maryland lieutenant governor Michael Steele (R), Sharpton said Trump “has a particular venom for blacks and people of color.”

The story continued to draw in the media on Wednesday (July 31). A CBSN reporter, for example, asked a Republican National Committee official whether the controversy would alienate voters of color from the Republican Party.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), also apparently unable to move on, continued the barrage on Thursday, saying Trump should ask “slumlord” Jared Kushner about Baltimore. Here comments generated multiple news stories, including a lengthy story on The Hill and television news stories across the country.

The hand-wringing continued on Friday, Aug. 2, as academics and politicians worked to find an angle they could exploit. William A. Donohue, a Distinguished Professor of Communication at Michigan State University, wrote a piece for The Conversation, an online publication, likening Trump referring to Baltimore as a “disgusting rat and rodent infested mess” to the “pattern of dehumanizing language in the lead-up to the genocide committed by the Turks against Armenians, where Armenians were “dangerous microbes.” Donohue went so far as to equate Trump’s remarks to Germans describing Jews as “Untermenschen,” or subhumans, during the Holocaust.

All of the country’s major news outlets, and many secondary ones, have been rabidly pursuing the Cummings/Baltimore story, elevating it to major coverage, as though it matters.

If the media had simply ignored Trump’s blathering, it would have died a natural, and appropriate, death.  OK, maybe the Baltimore Sun had a reason to go with news coverage and a scathing editorial, but that’s it.

TrumpTweeting

Instead, major media have seen in Trump’s tweetstorm an opportunity to promote rancorous public disputes and contrived mud fights, just as the Eugene Robinson, a Washington Post columnist, observed that the “clear intent of the (CNN) moderation was to spark fights” in Tuesday night’s Democratic debate.

Atlantic magazine writer Adam Serwer got it right. “The mainstream press has internalized Trump’s own reality-show standards for what counts as a significant political development,” Server wrote. “All the world is trashy television, and the president and his opposition are merely producers.”

Trump’s Cummings/Baltimore tweet storms were designed to be a distraction, and they’ve worked particularly well with an American media with a hive mentality, a kind of “On est tous dans le même bain, ” and a consistent race to the bottom. It’s likepornography has gotten more and more crude and explicit in order to compete for attention.

Trump’s outrageous tweets divert the world’s attention, and reporters, from real issues that matter. He manipulates the media by transforming out-of-the-blue poisonous rants into free, must-cover press opportunities. “I remain astonished by the ability of this former reality TV star to be our assignment editor,” bemoaned Kyle Pope, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Frankly, Trump has led the media by the nose, as they’ve pursued audiences with ferocity, their eyes more than ever on the bottom line in this difficult time for journalism.

As a Wall Street Journal opinion column by Holman W. Jenkins Jr. put it, “He delights in making us dance to tunes he wantonly types out in the wee hours.” Jenkins went on to mourn “…the apparent ease with which he elicits ritualized behavior from our media.”

When are the media going to wise up?

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