It is finally here, that moment in history when journalism became entertainment—reality TV at its worst (as if there is such a thing as reality TV at its best).
So as not to paint all journalism with the broad brush of blame, only broadcast and online journalism falls fully into the entertainment category. Print journalists, those who ply their trade for traditional newspapers and magazines that do not rely on ratings and click bait for revenue, get a pass.
All others, listen up: You are making fools of yourselves and of the profession. And by extension, making fools of some of us who do a pretty good job of making fools of ourselves without your help.
One could almost smell the acrid aroma from all of those heads on fire when CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta lost his hard press pass after he and President Trump engaged in the time-honored tradition of trying to prove who gets to be the toughest kid on the playground. Back in the day, the two bullies got in trouble along with those who egged them on.
There are so many points to include here, but self-discipline demands that online columns adhere to the old print constraints and not go on and on and on until the reader’s lips fall off out of boredom.
Acosta is a good place to start. There was a time when first-year journalism students learned never to be the story. I know this because I taught it. It is one of journalisms oldest rules, and yet our online and broadcast brothers and sisters seem to ignore it. Acosta has been needling Trump since the campaign. With all eyes on him during Trump’s ill-advised post-election news conference, Acosta could not resist the opportunity to engage in a battle of half-wits with POTUS.
“I wanted to challenge you on one of the statements that you made in the tail end of the campaign in the midterms,” he said, because that is always going to go well. One almost expected Trump to respond with, “Hey, Acosta, I got yer challenge right here!”
But he did not, and the Q&A turned into a juvenile display of bad boys trying to prove who has the bigger balls, with Acosta apparently tussling with a White House intern trying to take back the microphone.
Not only did Acosta refuse to be civil, he refused to remember he was a guest, with no more rights to be in the White House than any tourist with a kid and a camera. His access to the president is a privilege granted by the White House, which, as past presidents demonstrated, is revocable at any time for any reason. Obama kicked Fox News reporters from his campaign plane and replaced them with reporters from minority magazines. Obama also violated the constitutional rights of reporters by seizing the personal and business phone records without court orders, but that is a topic for another discussion, and a reminder that this bad blood did not start with this administration.
Trump also ignored an important rule: Never get into an argument with someone who buys paper by the ton. It is right up there with “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.” There was a time when newspapers distributed their news on paper, and could generate as much bad or good press about someone as the publication could afford. That is not the case today. Most newspapers have an online site. And broadcast journalists, like Acosta, have multiple social media accounts along with their organization’s Web pages. Who needs paper when you can blanket the earth electronically?
No one really wins in this obscene and ridiculous war of words or battle of the bozos. Any “victory” is short-lived and shortsighted.
CNN’s ratings will increase among those more interested in rumor, gossip, and innuendo than facts, figures, and intelligent discussion of the important issues facing our country and the world. And Acosta gets to talk about how Trump did a bad thing to him. But, today, the families and victims of the California bar murders are not feeling sorry for him. Ditto for the girls and boys who will suffer real abuse in many forms before the end of the day.
Trump may have increased his standing among those who do not like the media, but he did nothing to repair the country’s widening political and social divisions. He strengthened part of his base, but he weakened a great many others who keep telling their friends to give the guy a chance. He is becoming a caricature of a caricature during a dangerous time, quickly eroding what remains of any confidence in his leadership.
Acosta needs to put on his big-boy pants and be something other than an attention grabber working to strengthen his position for the next round of contract negotiations. Trump needs to realize he is the president of everyone and is above the pettiness of petulant journalists. And both of them need to realize rolling in the mud with the pigs may be fun, but in the end, you all become sausage.