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The Media Has Never Recovered From Trump’s Age of Rage

The big disruption that Trump brought is that the media will never be the same, and "fake news" is only fake to those who don't believe it. This is the age of digital rage.

When Donald J. Trump descended the golden escalator in June 2015, he brought with him a new era in political disruption. Before that day, Trump was considered a billionaire crank, who proffered birther conspiracy theories, tossed incendiary tweets like grenades, and toyed with the press as a well-fed and bored cat does a cornered mouse.

The professional media was generally aghast. I mean, throwing reporters out of a presser? Banning whole networks from rallies? Egging on supporters to hurl insults at CNN cameras? It was WWE meets presidential politics. But Trump was–then–a man for that time, tapping in to a deep resentment of being treated as ignorant plebians by a media, academic, and liberal political class taken with its own beauty, intelligence, and confidence to be right. Trump did overtly what many were fantasizing for years. He kicked them to the curb.

Trump never trailed in the polls once he seized the lead. He led all through primary season and confounded the media, the Hillary Clinton campaign’s number crunchers, and even most of the conservative punditry.

USA: Disrupted.

But here’s a surprising effect of the disruption. The media never recovered. In fact, 24-hour cable news has largely evolved devolved into 24-hour rage machine reality TV. They didn’t do so because they wanted to become the WWE wearing suits and ties; they did it because the viewers they’re left with wanted to tune in to rage.

Look at the ratings. Fox News has been on top since 2002. That’s right, for 19 years, Fox has been the #1 watched news network. Fox has always had a strong commentary line up. In 2002, it was Bill O’Reilly. Now, Tucker Carlson, Shannon Bream, and Sean Hannity pull in the views. On weekends, Neil Cavuto, Jesse Watters, Judge Jeanine, and Steve Hilton round it out. That’s punditry and TV conservative talk radio all the way. Much of it is simply Trump TV.

Of course, some of Fox News, like Special Report, remains mostly bone-hard analysis. Even then, the nature of intercourse has changed. There’s no Charles Krauthammer to calmly set out the facts and the best explanation of them. Conservatives like Jonah Goldberg are frequently brought in just to spice up the table, to give some bite and throw some barbs back at the full-throated Trumpists.

CNN always held itself as “news first.” They’ve tried to hold on to that guidance for years, and many times, failed miserably. The Trump disruption left them squarely in the snob elite bin, and their ratings have suffered.

Look at some of the outright disasters CNN has brought upon itself. In 2012, Candy Crowley outright swooned over Barack Obama during a debate with Mitt Romney. CNN’s “gun town hall” was nothing more than activism–Vox cheered it as the network “at its best.” This isn’t news, it’s playing the rage game, but doing it wrong.

On the other hand, MSNBC, which was flagging for years in third place, found its rage, rocketing past CNN. Viewers don’t want intelligent discourse most of the time: they want to be entertained. Rachel Maddow, in January 2020, nipped at Sean Hannity’s heels, but stomped on CNN. Maddow got to interview both Lev Parnas and Rudy Giuliani, a big score (her most-watched episode, ever).

In today’s disrupted news world, there’s only room for two sides: Trump, and NeverTrump. Any network that tries to ride the line, in the interest of “news,” will lose. Fox News does its best to represent both views, but really, it’s a Trump fest that happens to be cordial and kind to the folks on the other side. CNN at one time entertained the notion of having some conservatives (Erick Erickson being one), but now they don’t even bother.

Digital disruption.

This disruption has spread from 24-hour cable news to digital media. Honestly, it’s hard to make money online in political punditry. National Review Online has had to reposition itself multiple times, and is still associated with NeverTrump (devoting an entire print magazine issue to “Against Trump” might have something to do with that), although many of its writers (Rich Lowry, Charles Cooke among them) have some very pro-Trump takes on policy.

The Weekly Standard was murdered died (Weekly Standard didn’t kill itself, right?) and was reincarnated as the anti-Trump “The Bulwark” featuring Bill Kristol, Charlie Sykes, Jonathan V. Last, and non-conservative Molly Jong-Fast. There’s not even a hint of non-rage-centered analysis in its daily screeds.

One-time NeverTrumpers Steve Hayes, Jonah Goldberg, and David French took a softer road, an exercise in truth-telling fence-straddling called “The Dispatch.” While not being strictly anti-Trump, it’s certainly anti-rage, which, frankly is a breath of fresh air in a stench-filled media. If there’s a site that most closely mirrors this one (The Resurgent) in its emotional and politial tenor, it’s The Dispatch. We’ve yet to see if The Dispatch can support itself–I for one hope so.

The major newspapers have done extremely well online by pursuing a NeverTrump, anti-Trump, all-things-against-Trump strategy. The New York Times had a record year in 2019, despite spending the whole year tossing “bombshells” at Trump that turned into duds. The Washington Post recorded 86.6 million unique visitors in March 2019, putting it firmly in the top 5 digital news outlets.

Note that the top seven digital news players are all anti-Trump: CNN, NTY, Vox, WaPo, BuzzFeed, USA Today, HuffPost. The Wall Street Journal is number eight, its viewership is three and a half times smaller than CNN’s. There is little money in riding the fence online.

Radio is a whole different animal, because the skills necessary to inform and entertain listeners are vastly different than the huge teams and budgets required for television, and the deep background on digital media. “If you can’t make it as a blogger, try podcasting” is the advice you’ll hear. But you’ll make more money as a Youtuber recording video games or giving away money.

The big disruption that Trump brought is that the media will never be the same, and “fake news” is only fake to those who don’t believe it. This is the age of digital rage.

A note and an ask:

This site, The Resurgent, doesn’t make money. We don’t charge to get you to read articles behind a paywall. We aren’t rabidly pro-Trump, nor are we anti-Trump. When there’s something positive that the president does, we say so. When he’s being destructive, mean, or stupid, we say so. This site runs out of the charity (and checkbook) of our proprietor, Erick Erickson. We would be honored if you’d consider donating to support this site.


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