It’s way too early to tell, but here we are approaching the fourth month of the Trump-as-President phenomenon, and it appears the media are starting to recover a bit from the shellacking of November 8 2016. In the days immediately after the election mainstream media engaged in an orgy of self-flagellation for getting the election so spectacularly wrong. For, just as the Democrats ignored blue collar voters in the rust belt—did not the media also do the same? A Gallup poll taken a few weeks before the US election had trust in the media at an all-time low—32 percent. But a Quinnipiac University poll released last week shows a better standing for the media after a month of Trump in office. A majority (50% to 45%) did not approve of the way the media has been covering Trump, but when asked if they approve of the way Trump talks about the media, a full 61 percent disapproved of Trump’s war on the fourth estate. And when asked who they trusted more to tell the truth the media won out 52 to 37 over President Trump.
I’m not sure the media have done all that much to turn public perceptions around. Coverage seems about the same from the major players, although the New York Times has taken on a somewhat sharper tone editorially. What may have changed public perceptions is the resurgence of the late night talk show hosts and Saturday Night Live. Between Alec Baldwin as Trump and Melissa McCarthy as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer the satirical media have found their footing more quickly than the mainstream media had been able to do. Jimmy Kimmel hosting the Oscars took a number of shots at the president including painting an image of Trump sitting on the toilet every morning at 5AM tweeting. Rosie O’Donnell threatens to show up as Trump’s Rasputin, Steve Bannon and God knows who will be the first to tackle the foaming-at-the-mouth Trump aide Stephen Miller who stunned everybody to silence when he made the rounds of the Sunday Morning talk shoes a couple of weeks back and has thankfully disappeared since.
The media are bouncing back in part because Trump, as much as he hates the media, is addicted to media. Times columnist Maureen Dowd who has known Trump for close to four decades wrote recently about how Trump used to milk the New York Media for coverage from the 1970’s and 1980’s. He even phoned newsrooms pretending to be PR spokespersons for himself—inventing the flacks John Barron (Trump’s youngest son is named Barron—surely a coincidence… ed.)and John Miller, “so,” Dowd continued, “he could masquerade as his own p.r. agent and spin tall tales about Madonna and Carla Bruni craving him.”
In denouncing fake news, Trump has possibly done traditional media outlets a favour by focusing public scrutiny on all sources of news, but especially on the wild west of social media news sources. The public appears to be more willing to take a critical look at the fire hose of information that is coming at them. Hopefully that will lead to an appreciation that good journalism costs money and needs to be supported economically. Who knows maybe the old news dynamic—that people buy the news to see the stories ALONG WITH the ads will be fashionable again.