It is beyond the scope of this little blog to adequately catalog the absolute ball-busting media hysteria that has taken place over the past few weeks, though if you are at all perceptive then you are probably aware of it already. It has been an absolute maelstrom of delirium. The media are terminally obsessed with Trump—not obsessed in a good way, like how the Wright brothers were obsessed with figuring out the mechanics of powered flight, but obsessed in a bad way, like a high school girl’s monomaniacal social-media-fueled hate-filled obsession with her ex-boyfriend.
Getting a comprehensive view of this obsession is difficult simply because it is so vast and so multifaceted, but one of the consistent features of this mania is this: the media are absolutely and completely scandalized by everything—every word, every decision, every appointment—that Trump does. To our friends in the press—in the mainstream media outlets that oversee the vast majority of the news cycle—everything Trump does is categorically insane, absolutely unprecedented, shocking, upsetting, scandalous, frightening, chaotic—you name it! The hysteria is nonstop, and its implications are always the same.
The upshot is this: the hysteria almost always turns out to be unfounded, the implications invariably turn out to be overstated if not outright false, and the scandals usually turn out to be…not scandals.
For a great example of this new approach to doing media, consider the headline from CNN’s front page early yesterday morning:
For Trump, chaotic White House becomes the norm
Holy cow! That sounds nuts. A chaotic White House seems like it could have a profoundly destabilizing effect on global affairs and domestic tranquility, right? As CNN puts it, “the West Wing [is becoming] inexorably more entwined in political dramas and internal staff intrigues that threaten to detract from Trump’s crucial first 100 days.” Sweet porcelain porkchops! CNN even reports that there are people claiming that “the White House’s scattershot focus could eventually make Americans less safe.” Less safe—this sounds dangerous!
So what is the evidence to back up these extraordinary claims of chaos, drama, intrigues and danger? Let’s take them one by one.
- “Mushrooming drama over the Trump campaign’s alleged connections to Russia” is apparently “working its way relentlessly closer to the president himself.”
- “Questions” were raised “over the administration’s congressional and vetting operation” after Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Pudzer withdrew his name from consideration “over ethics issues.”
- Mike Pence is allegedly upset that he was kept in the dark about the probe into Mike Flynn’s interactions with Russian nationals.
- There is apparently a steady flow of “palace intrigues” involving “the maneuverings of Trump aides” like Stephens Bannon and Miller, Reince Priebus and son-in-law Jared Kushner. These “maneuverings” are “contributing to a growing sense that the new administration has lost control over its own story.”
Okay. So how do each of these claims hold up? Are they really indicative of a new “norm” of a “chaotic White House?”
Well, actually…no, not really. Let’s again take them one by one:
- The “mushrooming drama” over Trump’s ties to Russia does not actually appear to be “mushrooming;” it appears to be petering out. We have seen this kind of hysteria before, prior to the election; nothing came of that, either, even though everyone thought it was the end for Trump. Both the New York Times and NBC News have verified that investigators have concluded the Trump campaign did not collaborate with Russia regarding the election. Maybe that will change. But so far there is no indication that it will.
- Andrew Pudzer did not, in fact, pull out of the nomination process due to “ethics issues.” As CNN itself notes, Pudzer’s nomination was a hotbed of controversy from the start, the vast majority of it political, not ethical: labor unions hated him because of his policy preferences, Democrats dragged his name through the mud because of his acrimonious divorce from 1986 and because some of his restaurant’s commercials featured sexy women doing sexy things (this is what the modern Democratic party considers disqualifying!), he once employed an illegal immigrant as a maid (he claims he was unaware of her criminal status at the time of her employment). This was much the scandal surrounding his nomination; it had very little to do with “ethics.” As a matter of fact, the government ethics office eventually approved Pudzer’s paperwork, only noting that he was required to “liquidate all of his holdings in two companies.” Hardly the stuff of chaos here.
- It does seem to have been a serious mistake for Trump not to inform Mike Pence of the questions surrounding Mike Flynn’s contact. But this is not so much “chaos” as “a bad move by Trump.” It happens. And it is worth noting that CNN itself reports that, according to an administration official, “The vice president has moved beyond this topic and is focused on the future. Any claims to the contrary are false.” Some chaos!
- As for the “palace intrigue,” what indication do we have that there is any “chaos” regarding “Trump aides?” Well, CNN quotes two sources: John McCain (who claims that “nobody knows who is making the decisions” in the Trump White House), and two unnamed, completely anonymous sources, one who claims that Reince Preibus “badmouthed” Steve Bannon over the telephone, and another that claims Bannon might (not has—might) eventually (a) act as a counterweight to Jared Kushner and (b) stand up to Donald Trump if Trump is acting reckless. In other words: CNN’s evidence for intra-White House strife comes from an uncertain senator and two nameless “sources” who offer, respectively, an unsubstantiated claim and an entirely hypothetical proposal. This, folks—this!—is what CNN calls “palace intrigue!”
Be honest: do you believe these things constitute a “chaotic” “norm?” Or does it seem like nothing more than a busy, slightly hectic week in a newly-minted White House, one that is struggling a bit to try and find its footing, and one that has not been touched to any appreciable degree by any scandal or “chaos?”
You begin to see the problem. This is but one single news article on one single major news website. There are dozens of these from dozens of outlets every single day, most of them ginned up and overblown and noncontextualized and overbearing and overspeculative, short on information but long on “sources,” grasping for scandal, coming up with nothing and running a misleading headline anyway just for the hell of it.
This is the new normal now: not the chaos of a Trump White House, but the unbridled mayhem of a press that is desperately, frantically trying to wring some kind of bad news out of every single thing that the Trump Administration does. It’s madness, and it’s maddening, and for all appearances it is hear to stay: for the next four years, or eight, or however long they’re determined to let this idiocy persist.