With Donald Trump poised to leave the White House one way or another on January 20, cable news nets find themselves in an existential crisis. They have spent the last four years mercilessly bashing the president, accusing him of wild, outrageous, and crazy crimes, creating some of the most inventive conspiracy theories about a president in history. This has resulted in sky-high ratings, allowing them to charge top dollar for advertising.
If nothing else, the last four years have shown us the creative talents of news personalities who can now indulge their true calling, writing the great American political novel or an Oscar-winning blockbuster movie script.
But after the celebrating and self-congratulations are over following Trump’s loss, the cable news execs must have suffered a real four-alarm hangover.
How do they replace Trump-bashing with anything else that would draw half as big an audience?
They might try to gin up more hysteria about COVID, but with vaccines on the way, that’s a short-term fix.
So far, the networks must be secretly relieved that Trump is remaining front and center in the public eye, contesting the election. But eventually, Trump will become an ex-president. And then what? Do they follow him as if he’s still president? How will that work?
What will the networks talk about if they’re not melting down over Trump tossing a roll of paper towels during a hurricane relief effort or serving a personally purchased fast-food spread to championship-winning college athletes? Can anything capture the attention of college-educated whites like Rachel Maddow’s bizarre Trump tax return conspiracies or Jake Tapper keeping tally of how many cabinet officials have resigned or been fired (and then interviewing them once they release the requisite Trump-bashing memoir)?
CNN president Jeff Zucker, who recognized Trump’s TV prowess during the 2016 campaign and offered him a weekly show on his network, admitted to Vanity Fair that cable news loses its audience when anchors cut away from constant Trump coverage.
‘We’ve seen that anytime you break away from the Trump story and cover other events in this era, the audience goes away,’ he said in 2018. ‘So we know that, right now, Donald Trump dominates.’
I think the answer is obvious. The networks will continue to cover Donald Trump as long as he “dominates.” And since Trump knows exactly what strings to pull and buttons to push, that will send the media into paroxysms of loathing, it should be a fairly easy task for the ex-president to manipulate the media as easily as he did when he was in office.
This will suit Joe Biden fine — not that the media would pay much attention to him anyway. A liberal Democrat will be president, so let the gushing coverage of him begin. And as Biden begins to screw up, the coverage will become even more laudatory. Being a diabetic, I worry about watching too much of the sugar-sweetened coverage of Biden “successes” and cover-ups of his failures. A man can take only so much before the body rebels.
I just hope I’m not sitting at my monitor when I lose my lunch.