He Who Lives by the Media Dies by the Media

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He Who Lives by the Media Dies by the Media

It has been a strange and terrifying parade, but Donald Trump's presidential run has re-defined the term media circus. (Image: Donkey Hotey/flickr/cc)

Consider it justice (of a sort): he who lives by the media dies by the media. I’m talking -- as if you had a scintilla of doubt -- about Donald Trump. If the Washington Post’s release of a video of his lewd conversation with Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush (that family again!) on his way to the set of Days of Our Lives proves to be the beginning of the end for him, there could be no more appropriate way to go. After all, we’re talking about the man whose greatest skill may be sensing the proximity of a camera and attracting it; about the man who, despite his recent denunciations of the use of unidentified “sources” in reporting his campaign, spent the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s calling reporters as “John Miller” and “John Barron” to offer the latest scoop on one Donald J. Trump; about the man who launched his political career in part by citing an “extremely credible source” claiming Barack Obama’s birth certificate was a "fraud"; about the man whose boasts of routinely assaulting women were caught on camera.

He was always a media-made man. In return, he's had an uncanny ability to glue eyeballs -- never more so than in this unending Super Bowl of elections that has included a level of public crudeness once unimaginable and now the purest of cash cows.  As CBS head Les Moonves put it earlier this year, speaking of The Donald’s performance: “It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS... The money's rolling in and this is fun... Sorry. It's a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.” And keep going it has. 

So if, in the last week-plus, the media finally said to him, “You’re fired!” and started him on his presidential death spiral, who better? And of course, all the unavoidable questions of our moment follow, ensuring through-the-roof ratings for a few more lucrative weeks until November 8th: How far will he go down? Can he recover? Who will he take with him? And what about the Republican Party?

Until now, it’s been such a close relationship. The Donald has played a significant role in transforming the news into the strange, obsessive, 24/7 creature it is today, and in return the media made him. That it can now unmake him should surprise no one but does highlight the basic asymmetry between them, since he’s incapable of unmaking them. In this context, stop thinking of the mainstream news as “the fourth estate.” It, not the Libertarians or the Green Party, is now the true third party of the present infotainment version of American politics. Get used to it. Les Moonves and his associates aren’t going anywhere. And count on it: election 2020 starts on November 9th. These are, after all, the days of our lives.

Luckily, not everyone has been glued to the screen, eternally watching The Donald. From Black Lives Matter to the climate change movement, activists have, as Rebecca Gordon points out in “Learning to Claim Our Victories,” never stopped working to make this a better world and, as she indicates, if we can take our eyes off the media spectacle-cum-circus for a few moments, they offer us a kind of hope for our future that shouldn’t be ignored.


Tom Engelhardt

shadowgovengelhardt.jpgTom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book is, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (with an introduction by Glenn Greenwald). Previous books include Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050 (co-authored with Nick Turse), The United States of Fear, The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's, The End of Victory Culture: a History of the Cold War and Beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.

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