US writer Doyle McManus said that the media have finally figured out how to handle Donald Trump.
Trump’s free ride on your television screen is coming to an end. In the Republican primary campaign, Trump profited from his undeniable entertainment value, grabbing hours of TV time with speeches, news conferences and interviews. To be honest, it was hard not to watch, the US writer said in an article published by The Los Angeles Times.
"His speeches are fascinating for a simple reason: You never know what he’s going to say," confessed Katharine Hall Jamieson, a normally sober communications scholar at the Annenberg Public Policy Center. Television networks, locked in competition for viewers, felt powerless to resist.
"It may not be good for America, but it’s good for CBS," network CEO Les Moonves said all too memorably.
Trump didn’t get a pass on every occasion. CNN’s Jake Tapper has been tough on him for months; Fox News’ Chris Wallace tried to police his whoppers, too. But some interviewers allowed the candidate’s most outlandish assertions to float by without challenge. Networks often allowed him to phone in, a privilege granted few other mortals.
Since he has all but secured the nomination, though, Trump has encountered tougher treatment.
Television interviewers, instead of allowing the candidate to skitter from one subject to another, are now pressing him more relentlessly.
On June 5 on CBS’ "Face the Nation,"" John Dickerson asked Trump five times to explain his claim that he opposed the 2010 US intervention in Libya (in fact, he supported it). "I was for doing something," Trump admitted weakly, "but it wasn’t what you have right now.”
On CNN’s "State of the Union," Tapper pressed Trump 23 times to explain his objection to Judge Gonzalo Curiel. "He’s of Mexican heritage," Trump finally said. "I think that’s why he’s doing it." ("He’s not from Mexico, he’s from Indiana," Tapper noted.)
And in its regular news programs, CNN instituted an overdue practice: correcting falsehoods in the "chyron," the text on the bottom of the screen. "Trump: I never said Japan should have nukes (he did)," the pioneering chyron said.
It seems reporters have belatedly figured out how to handle Trump’s manic style in a way they didn’t initially grasp.
The real estate promoter dominated early interviews simply by changing the subject whenever he got a question he didn’t like. Pinning Trump down is like "trying to grab passing fish with your bare hands," David Rennie of the Economist wrote after one frustrating encounter.
Jamieson, who has studied media behavior for decades, expressed sympathy for hapless journalists.
As the journalistic heat turns up, Trump may be tempted to reduce his exposure to tough questions by adopting Clinton’s strategy of maximum control.
That would be a shame. Better for him to challenge Clinton to a series of dueling news conferences or interviews, each devoted to a single subject in depth. We’ll be better off if the candidates compete to provide more answers, not fewer.