Op-ed: Forget about Trump? Forget about it

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, January 2, 2016 5:40pm
  • Opinion

It’s our fault. It always is. Sooner or later, those of us in the news biz get blamed for every societal problem, and this one is no exception. “He wouldn’t succeed if you didn’t cover him so much!” or “You should cut back on reporting about him for the good of the country,” or some such.

The “him,” of course, is Donald Trump, and those who have confronted my cohorts and me are not the usual snarling attackers of the “lamestream media,” but those who regard themselves as the responsible ones – as opposed, perhaps, to what they regard as the raucous riff-raff whose anger buttons Trump pushes. Never mind that this rabble is rebelling against the polite politics-as-usual that has so ravaged our country; those who see themselves as more civilized are horrified that a slick hustler, whose specialties are nasty, pithy sound bites and nasty, pithy tweets, has flooded the campaign with his pithiness.

Trump is leading in most Republican polls, and he has been ever since he got into the race. Not only that, but no matter how outrageously demeaning his rhetoric is, he continues to thrive, to the point that those who consider him a dangerous buffoon are starting to worry that his staying power actually will propel him all the way into the White House, and then the country will go down in flames.

Their concerns are possibly well placed. But their blame is misplaced. Let’s start with the common refrain that we are paying too much attention to Trump, that we elevate him with our incessant coverage of his every piggish comment. We should scale back to make sure that substantive issues get proper coverage. The response to that one is simple: That’s not our job. We are not the ones to determine what’s proper for our readers and viewers to see. We certainly should not be the stewards of what’s appropriate when you consider that many of the established news organizations – in fact, most of them – are owned by corporate entities who are very much a part of society’s difficulties, exercising control by showering money on those who run our government, or aspire to. We don’t need them to determine the correct journalism agenda any more than they already do. That’s propaganda.

Having said that, it also is true that The Donald has played The Media like The Fiddle. He knows that we are honor-bound to report the fact that the front-running GOP candidate for president of the United States has once again stepped across the line of good taste and stomped on the other side. Folks, his every “-ist” rant (“racist,” “misogynist,” etc.), his every coarse appeal to the mob’s worst instinct, is unfortunately newsworthy. Add to that the fact that we are motivated by a desperate need for an audience. So we grovel before him and constantly put him on the air because he’s a ratings magnet. He knows that, we know that and neither of us is too concerned about scruples. The only thing worse would be some elitist deciding what’s best for society to know. We’re stuck, in other words. Our founders envisioned the press as an independent and skeptical watchdog. But let’s face it – there is no principle that won’t be corrupted. That’s what we’ve done, and what he’s done. The solution, though, would be a bigger mistake. It would be censorship.

Besides, it would be ineffective. The real media control these days is in everyone’s hands. The Trumpster is also master of the Twittiverse dumpster. He cannot be buried. Even if those of us MSMers decided to pretend he didn’t exist, he’d still dominate the conversation.

Public knowledge is the strength of a democracy. What people do with it is its greatest risk. Donald Trump can’t be ignored. He’s another test of our always-fragile system. As always, it relies on all of us.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist.

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