On the other hand, the contortions into which he has thrown the media are less hilarious, because they ultimately have more bearing on the outcome of the presidential race. What Trump’s candidacy has managed to do is reveal fault lines in the media that usually are buried beneath the typical journalistic blather, the groupthink and the feigned objectivity of the mainstream media — and the reflexive lockstep partisanship in the right-wing media. (The liberals, with a pox on both Trump and his GOP rivals, get to sit this one out.)
Thanks to Trump, there are civil wars now erupting within the mainstream media between the business side and the editorial side, and within the right-wing media among the establishment Republicans, the populist renegades, and the so-called moderate, intellectual neoconservatives. What it really shows is just how craven, self-serving and self-involved our media are.
Let’s begin with the MSM. As I wrote here several weeks back, CBS head Les Moonves was mercenary enough to crow over how much money Trump coverage was pouring into his network’s coffers. Trump is a veritable gold mine, which is one reason why the media have given him so much free coverage — by one account $1.9 billion worth, which is nearly two-and-a-half times as much as the next highest candidate, Hillary Clinton, and more than five times as much as Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz each.
In his inaugural column as the late David Carr’s successor, The New York Times’ new media maven, Jim Rutenberg, examined just how big a stake the media have in Trump — especially CNN, which was nearly on life support before Trump applied CPR. So far during this campaign, Rutenberg writes, CNN’s prime-time ratings have soared 170 percent, and CNN head Jeff Zucker boasted to Rutenberg that on debate nights the network gets $200,000 for a 30-second ad. This gives Trump a tremendous amount of leverage, and he isn’t afraid to use it to make sure he is treated respectfully. I can’t recall a situation in which a network was so dependent on a candidate. Usually, it’s the other way around.
If Donald Trump didn’t constitute, in this year’s favorite word, an existential threat to American democracy, the contortions into which he has thrown the Republican Party, as they simultaneously try to thwart him while espousing his basic policies, would be hilarious.