President Trump has been called “a master of distraction” for his ability to change the narrative and divert the news media’s attention. Do you think Trump has effectively diverted the news media’s attention away from more important political issues? If so, how can the media regain control?
Anderson is the opinion editor for the student-run newspaper, The Murray State News. His columns focus on self-care and environmental issues.
To say that President Donald Trump is a “master” of anything is misleading; often, he stumbles into each of his grand schemes, which his administration will then build upon. But from his crusade against “fake news,” to his infatuation with duking it out via Twitter with various celebrities, it has become apparent he has honed the art of sleight of hand to protect his ego from criticism.
However, these tendencies towards spectacle, though distracting, aren’t as effective as most might think. This tactic hinges on riling up those who vehemently defend Trump against criticism, and who rely on limited sources for their news and information. While the attention of some major media outlets has been drawn from the real issues at hand, the situation isn’t as dire as some think.
Fortunately, now more than ever, we have access to numerous reliable and multi-faceted news sources. The more you are exposed to multiple points-of-view, the less likely you are to fall for Trump’s cheap parlor trick disguised as outrage.
Perhaps the president’s worst folly to date is his administration’s response to the devastation Puerto Rico, or lack thereof. In the early hours of the territory’s destruction, Trump was still focused on berating the NFL for not taking action against players who took a knee to show solidarity for those still oppressed. Then, our president would go on to criticize Puerto Rican officials and shame them for supposedly throwing a wrench in our country’s budget.
So, while the president tweeted safely from his country club of choice, Mexico, as well as other countries and aid groups, were rallying to assist Puerto Rican citizens. But this was never addressed by the president, and why would it? He has remained largely faithful to his voter base and its disdain for Latin America, so to validate those countries would be to go against those who put him in office.
We must hold our elected officials responsible for their actions, or in the case of President Trump, inaction. The art of misdirection isn’t difficult to see through, though one must have a willingness to do so. News and media stations listen to their viewers (and ratings), so we must demand that the narrative be focused on reality, or seek the truth elsewhere.
Sain started his career in 1986, serving in numerous roles at 10 different newspapers from Alaska to Maryland, Ohio to Texas.
Visit the Washington Post’s or New York Times’ webpage and search the page for “Trump.” On Oct. 12, there were 23 mentions for the Times and 32 for the Post.
Everything about President Trump has been transitional. He changed how campaigns are waged and has changed how business is conducted in the Oval Office.
Journalism adapted as well. We do fewer “he said, he said” stories and are much more willing to tell readers when someone is lying. Yes, Trump tries to distract us.
President Trump is great at controlling the narrative. Part of that is on our readers, who would rather read about all the president’s antics on Twitter than what EPA chief Scott Pruitt is doing to the environment. Part of that is on us. Trump has been so different it was easy to get caught up in it, and covering it has led to increased subscriptions and ratings. It has also generated some terrific journalism.
We need to do more. It makes no sense to have beat reporters cover the White House in the traditional manner when they are mostly fed untruths. It defies logic to allow this president to change our focus with a tweet.
You’re likely saying, “But Ken, he’s the president. We can’t ignore him?”
We need to be more selective. When Trump tells a lie, call it for what it is, don’t dwell on it, and move on to something real. Instead of talking about what the president tweeted about Puerto Rico, we should be comparing how the federal responses to the hurricanes in Houston and Puerto Rico differ. Instead of covering his feud with NFL players, examine if there have been improvements in racial inequality since Colin Kaepernick first took a knee.
And we should be willing to ignore some distractions and devote our resources elsewhere.
Second, when we have a good story, we need to do a better job of marketing it. Readers have endless options of stories demanding their attention. We are competing for that attention, so we need to step up our marketing game to get them to focus on the important issues and less on distractions.
Our focus should be on Trump’s policies and proposals and their impact on our readers. We won’t be able to avoid distractions altogether, but by being more selective we can try to get readers to focus on issues, not insults.