No, I’m not referring to the right-wing accusations of “Fake News.” As a journalist, I have great faith in the accuracy and integrity of most news reporters. I’m referring to the extraordinary amount of news coverage afforded to Trump from the time he was a two-bit developer and hustler in the early eighties; from the time he used undocumented Polish immigrants to demolish New York’s treasured Art Deco Bonwit Teller building to make way for his garish Trump Tower.
Reviled by many New Yorkers, Trump was embraced by the news and entertainment media because, in journalistic terms, he was good copy. He served as his own publicist using his inherited millions to gain publicity for his gaudy buildings, which all bear his name in gigantic, oversized letters. And, if he believed the coverage to be unflattering, he used his father’s mob-connected lawyer to bully the writers and producers.
If the media chose to ignore him, he called reporters while disguising his voice and using one of many aliases to heap praise on himself and his projects. He portrayed himself as a self-made billionaire claiming that he received a very small loan from his father, which he quickly repaid. He claimed that he was far richer than he really was. He lied…a lot…to make himself seem important.
In reality, his approach had all the class and sophistication of a street pimp. Only, instead of gold rings, chains and a custom Cadillac, his bling consisted of gold-plated lobbies, golden faucets, and gold-plated toilets. And, like the pimp, Trump almost always had some eye-candy hanging on to his arm.
More than anything else, Trump adhered to the age-old prescription for fame: The belief that there is no bad publicity as long as your name is spelled correctly.
His efforts paid off. The real estate and gossip pages were soon filled with his lies about his wealth, his development plans and the names of women he claimed were obsessed with him. He gained even more coverage when he placed a full-page ad calling for the execution of the Central Park 5 – five young men who were ultimately proven innocent for the assault and rape of a female jogger.
Still considered a minor player in New York’s real estate market, in 1987 he hired a ghost writer to author The Art of the Deal to promote his business acumen, which he, of course, believed to be extraordinary (it’s not).
Eventually, the national news media took notice and, in 2004, he was cast as the business mogul for NBC’s Apprentice. Though the TV show made him out to be a business genius, in fact, he had very little to do with it. He simply read the scripts (badly) and delivered one memorable line: “You’re fired.”
When his fame began to wane, he embraced the “Birther” conspiracy along with some of the nation’s most questionable, and arguably, most despicable political operatives, such as Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi. When his right-wing toadies encouraged him to run for office, the notion appealed to his massive ego. Unfortunately, it also appealed to TV networks and newspapers desperate for ratings and readership.
As a result, beginning in mid-2015, he was on cable television news shows almost 24/7. When he appeared at a rally in Phoenix that same year, his speech dominated the news cycle. The media dutifully reported his claims that his followers filled the convention center despite the fact that the local fire marshal reported a much smaller number. By comparison, when Sen. Bernie Sanders appeared at a rally in the same building in front of an overflow crowd of several thousand more people, the news media hardly took notice.
The Trump coverage only grew from there. The airwaves were filled with his speeches and interviews. They feigned outrage as he taunted his GOP primary opponents, while making wild, undeliverable promises and threatening Hillary. Indeed, the lies, the self-aggrandizement, the threats and the publicity continue unabated to this day.
It’s not that the majority of the news media ever really supported Trump or that they ever believed his unbelievable claims. In fact, they’re now doing the job they’re expected to do by exposing his prolific lies and holding him accountable.
Make no mistake – he’s still good for ratings and readership. He’s still good copy. But because of the media’s fascination with a sensational story, our democracy is paying a horrific price.