I received a lovely letter the other day from my old chum Mark Ruffalo. Ok it was an email. Ok it was from Moveon.org. But it was written by Mark! Good ole Mark. He was making a cameo over at Moveon.org to personally invite me (ok, impersonally invite many people) to, shall we say, an alternative-to-the-alternative facts (we used to call these facts) State of the Union. In other words: an event dedicated to the proposition that we already know what the president is going to say and would rather not give him the ratings.
We all know better than to watch him, eyes glued to his chaotic banality, like a presidential Jersey Shore. We know it’s not good for us to gawk and gossip, and it’s not good for the country to give him the satisfaction of our attention. But we keep failing to act on the principle. Ever since those more innocent days, when the major news-stations would broadcast Trump’s rallies whole, with no commentary or fact-checking of any kind, journalists and comedians alike have faced an issue: how to talk about Trump (who is the president. I know. Still.) without committing the sin of indulging his narcissism.
The event, though; the People’s State of the Union. I might swallow my pride and buy a ticket, even though—really, Mark? Holding an event to protest corporate greed run amok in the White House by letting Ticketmaster pocket like half of the proceeds? Still, I’d like to spend that night some other way than (1) resisting the urge to cry, (2) swilling whiskey, and (3) crying.
But the email didn’t feel lovely to me just because it’s an event I’d consider going to. It felt lovely to me because it might lead to something better, because it was one more example of how continually inspired I am by the way people take it upon themselves to shine their lights in these dark times, and because it’s been a minute since me and Mark have hung out and shot the shit.
Most of all, it felt lovely because this is the start of something I have hoped for and yet, on my own, cannot shout loudly enough to bring about.
See, every time Stephen Colbert starts a joke with “Donald Trump tweeted...” every time a newspaper (fellow-millennials please click here) (and here) begins a story with some bullshit line from Trump or one of his stooges, in short, every day people who ought to know better give his words a platform as if the words he dribbles out today are any different than the words he dribbled out yesterday, I find myself shaking my head in disappointment and yelling at nobody in particular:
JUST STOP LISTENING!
WHY are we still listening? Why are we repeating the words he says? Ok. Imagine he wasn’t president. Now wipe the tears of relief from the corners of your eyes. But seriously imagine he wasn’t president; just another Hilton or Kardashian or Saudi prince rolling down 5th avenue in his hooptie, bragging about pornstars and making comments about current events—comments aimed, not at fostering dialogue, but at promoting his lifestyle-brand. Occasionally he might say something worth hearing, like the Kardashians did when they briefly tried to raise awareness over Ottoman-Turkish perpetration of the Armenian Holocaust. Now imagine that such a man, his influence owed entirely to his popularity, not at all to his intelligence or insight, says something stupid. Would you, as a self-respecting journalist or comedian, print those words?
The news-item, to be clear, is that an irrelevant person has said something irrelevant. How should we cover such ‘news’? One answer is, we shouldn’t. Another answer is that we should describe what happened, but not dignify the trust-fund-baby involved by re-printing what he verbally diarrhea’d.
Now imagine that you had a similar situation: entitled-reality-star-number-7 is brought up on charges, either in the traditional way, or, given how things have been trending lately, in the court of public opinion. A model, say, accuses him of sexual harassment. What is expected is that he will hold a press-conference—or release a statement—confirming, denying, in any case discussing, the allegations. The situation, then, is that lucky #7 convenes a press conference, just like we all expected, but that instead of addressing the charges, spends the press-conference crying havoc about how those conniving Haitian immigrants are stealing jobs from our hard-working, patriotic Norwegian immigrants.
The news-item, to be clear, is that an irrelevant reality-star man-baby is accused of sexual harassment, fails to address charges, and instead spouts racist irrelevancies. I have to hope the coverage would read something like:
”Irrelevant reality-star man-baby accused of sexual harassment fails to address charges, spouts racist irrelevancies.”
Instead the news and comedy folk say: “can you believe what the president just said?” Yeah. I can. It’s been a few years. I have adjusted my expectations. I’m not saying to the media “start doing your jobs” or any sort of grand Jeremiadic indictment like that. I’m saying:
JUST STOP LISTENING!
Examples come in threes, so now imagine you are Trump’s parent or teacher. Would you acknowledge every stupid thing your child says? Would you indulge your brat every time just because he made you laugh? Here’s the situation: You are teaching a class, and you have a student who says something blatantly offensive or even illegal, and you are about to punish that student, when, from the other side of the classroom, a student asks: “What did he say?” Kids are like this, no less than adults. They want to know the gossip. The correct procedure is to be a good teacher and not repeat it. At most, you might say: “He said something inappropriate. Please get back to your own assignment.” I do expect someone whose desk sits at the front of the Ed Sullivan theater—someone who proudly teaches Sunday School—to know as much about how to deal with inappropriate comments as someone whose desk sits at the front of a middle school classroom.
What to do instead? Yes, report on the President being a shit-storm-on-fire. Because it’s news that that is the case. Yes, report on it every day, because it happens every day. Just don’t give his statements a platform for dissemination beyond what they already have. Why give that satisfaction to a man who so longs to see his name in print he has fake magazine-covers printed up? Moreover, why waste everyone’s time with details that hardly change?
Here’s an idea: the permanent banner-headline of every newspaper, every day—a part of the masthead, even: “President Obama’s Controversial Successor, Amid Allegations of Election Fraud and Sexual Harrassment, Spends Day Posting Uninformed, Racist Nonsense to Social Media; also, Golfing.”
Or how about this as a permanent headline: “Baby-President Tweets Something Racist Regarding a Policy Negotiation in which he is Feigning Involvement, Proclaiming Staunch Support of the Side that Gave him the Right Color Starburst.”
Please post your own version in the comments section!
These generic headlines would be true every day, and really, the only other information you would need is the time and location of the next protest. I wish I could go a step further and say that the news should ignore him altogether. But they can’t. His bullshit is—and needs to be—headline news every day. Just like a literal shitstorm would be headline news and would continue to be so until first-responders from the Department of Sanitation were able to halt the flow and mop up the effluvium. Oh, wait, we do have literal shitstorms in this country? And they’re killing people? And nobody’s cleaning them up? Or even talking about them? Why aren’t we hearing about this from major news outlets? Oh right because they’re busy telling us exactly what the president said.
Again: the president saying something crazy is news, but that doesn’t mean the content is news. Reporting the content of each love-letter our mad president sends us is like reporting the name of the designer responsible for the clothes Nancy Pelosi wore when she became Spea—oh, we did report the des—oh, I already tried to make a joke like this? Just last paragraph? So why are we trying it again? You’re right we should move on.
What I’m suggesting we do is what conservative leaders are already doing: ignore the baby, bribe him with candy, and so on. If an assface like Mitch McConnell can adapt, I have high hopes for Arthur Gregg Sulzberger.
Maybe that’s not a fair comparison: McConnell is a cynic; he is used to doing whatever he needs to get whatever he wants. The scion of a newspaper publishing dynasty, on the other hand, has pride, a sense of history, a set way of doing things--
When the President says something, we report it. When the president goes somewhere, we report it. We represent 150 years of journalprudence. If we just keep doing what we’ve been doing, justice will prevail. We helped bring down Nixon...
To which I say: not by printing every word he said; not by printing every redundancy, playing into his every bid for sympathy or attention.
Ok I’ll start to wind up. Here. Try following these five commandments and see where they lead you:
1. The rantings of a madman locked in a batty belfry are never news.
2. The fact that our president is just such a madman—that is news.
3. What he says—that is not news because it never changes; c.f. commandment #1.
4. The effects of what he says—that is news.
5. This one is most important. Dog bites man—not news; man bites dog—news; man bites a different dog every day for years—the biggest news-story there is that the system allowing him to continue is on fire.
So until Donald Trump rises to the level of Kim Kardashian and actually says something well-informed and politically astute, you, A.G., and you Mort Zuck, and you Rupert Mur... ok not you, because you’re the worst, need to change the way you cover his outbursts.
Might I make a humble suggestion?
Other commentaries by A.S.K:Democracy Works.
There Once was Man from Nantucket...
Four Effective Ways to Combat the Insanity that is Trump
Addicted to Quick Fixes: America Doesn’t Need a President. America Needs a Sponsor
This Slogan Kills Fascists
Sanity Fair: How the Media is Misleading You About Trump