After Donald Trump’s typically vitriolic, and sometimes funny, performance at a CNN-sponsored “town hall” last week—I didn’t watch, but looked at numerous clips—the first wave of reaction from those who are handicapping the 2024 presidential election as if it’ll be held next month was a condemnation of CNN CEO Chris Licht for allowing the divisive “Orange Monster” (incredibly, or maybe not, some commentators who casually mention their pedigree, in a “I went to college near Boston” kind of way, are so mentally sapped they can’t think of an up-to-date epithet for Trump) to appear on its “new brand” network. (Reminds me of the bland Tex-Mex chain Chipotle’s slogan “food with integrity.”) Since most journalists in particular, and people in general, have the attention span of one of the kitty cat (excepting Fritz and Top Cat) stars on Twitter, the “national conversation” quickly morphed into a critique of Trump’s noxious performance, and Licht was let off the hook. (Trump doesn’t take advice, but you’d think he’d lay off the “stolen 2020 election” theme and the glory of J6, since those are ancient talking points. He might remind people that the Covid election was, one hopes, a one-off, and if Biden was forced to campaign, he likely wouldn’t have won.)
I read a number of New York Times op-ed reactions to the event, and not one man or woman even alluded to the smack-you-in-your-face fact that CNN, under Licht, took the opportunity to kick a dog (Fox) while it’s bleeding on the ground, and reap a ratings bonanza, and all the money that results from those views, clicks and “national conversations.” (Whether CNN capitalizes on those ratings is an open question.) Did Trump get a kickback for his on-script schtick? Are we talking Alan Freed and a new payola scandal? I wish. That would fund a lot more than Maureen Dowd writing, “It seems so quaint now, the idea of respecting the president. Gallant has vanished; gladiatorial is in. Patriotism is no longer a premier American virtue. And to a large degree, we have Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch to thank for that.”
(By the way, I’m not dismissing the payola angle—a deal between Licht and Trump—since that would be the “new normal,” and to a large degree, we have Bill Clinton and the Sulzbergers to thank for that. A night in the Lincoln Bedroom for 100 grand? Too pricey, Hillary, put me down for the steeply-discounted Chester A. Arthur hideaway and kick in a tub of Arkansas ribs and 10 minutes of face-time with “trailer-park” hag James Carville. And before I drift away and free my soul, letting that freak flag fly, a question for those who bandy about the phrase “the new normal.” What was the “old normal”? Was that when ex-presidents made millions shilling for corporations with a canned one-hour speech and meet-and-greet? With the exception of Jimmy Carter—amazingly still alive—has any president since LBJ refused the money-for-doing-nothing scam? Did the “old normal” include JFK’s father bragging about giving Boss Tweed-like city bosses bags of money at barely-concealed locations? Or Nixon breaking into Daniel Ellsberg’s office, FDR shuttling Japanese-Americans into de facto prisoner-of-war camps, Teddy Kennedy skating after his Chappaquiddick mishap, Dick Cheney directing a war that had no strategy after toppling Saddam, Eisenhower capitulating to his CIA overlords, or Reagan and his religious kooks claiming that AIDS was divine retribution against gay men?)
I’m a New York Times subscriber and therefore given access to former restaurant critic (he was good) and op-ed columnist (snoozy) Frank Bruni’s newsletter that appears in print and digitally on more occasions than I’d like. Bruni was angry, angry, angry as he laid out his hardly original thoughts. He writes: “The town hall, hosted by CNN and moderated heroically by the anchor Kaitlan Collins [“Heroically”? Isn’t that what she’s paid to do, with a salary that far exceeds that of a social worker or cop?], played like a kind of Mad Libs of hundreds of Trump’s public appearances and interviews since he jumped into the presidential fray back in 2015… In an ugly echo of the 2016 presidential debate when he called Hillary Clinton ‘nasty’ [fact check: true], he called Collins ‘nasty.’ The ‘very stable genius,’ as he once pronounced himself, has a very static vocabulary.” Bruni allowed that Joe Biden “often doesn’t seem as clear and focused as he did in the past,” but next to Trump he looks like Teddy Roosevelt. (I made up the “TR” part, but wouldn’t be surprised if Bruni’s said that in the past.)
Once again, I wish Trump would jump in a lake to China and never reappear in the United States. Ron DeSantis gets creepier by the day, running to the right of the “Orange Monster” on abortion and ridding the country of “woke ideology” and Biden, as most in the country know, is a doddering old man who has no business running (allegedly) the United States. So unless the very improbable occurs—and since it’s the “new normal” era, it could!—I’m left out, like millions, of the electoral process. Nonetheless, that doesn’t excuse the overwhelming amount of attention Trump receives from every media outlet, when he has nothing new to say, and lies about almost everything. If I were an editor of a large newspaper, I’d confine his antics to the back pages; then again, should that position impossibly fall to me, maybe I’d also give in to the chase for page views and advertising. Because Trump is a cash machine for the media, and will be for another five years if—50-50—he’s elected a year from this November. And that corporate view isn’t “new normal” or “old normal,” it’s just normal.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023