One of the more challenging aspects of covering this White House involves trying to explain exactly how fraught with nonsense Donald Trump’s ongoing feud with the corporate news media is. Trump is of, by, and for that media. He is what would happen if New York City tabloid journalism and reality TV had a baby together and painted it orange. He is them and they are him; they feed off each other and have disturbingly similar personalities.
The irony and hypocrisy involved on both sides can be thoroughly unbearable, and when Trump on Tuesday took a break from tweeting stumble-phrased attacks against his own Justice Department and Fed chair to launch another broadside against CNN, the last sentence jumped out: “Something has to be done, including the possibility of the United States starting our own Worldwide Network to show the World the way we really are, GREAT!”
Where to begin?
CNN, mostly in the form of journalist Jim Acosta, has certainly been no friend to the Trump administration with its reporting. This seemingly aggressive coverage, however, is self-serving. CNN learned all too well during the first Gulf War, September 11 and the long slog of the Iraq War that crisis breeds ratings and advertising dollars. CNN’s viewership went up 500 percent after 9/11. The network made a fortune peddling fear on behalf of the Bush administration, and helped to parlay those fears into a war based on lies it ravenously promoted.
Candidate Trump, for news networks like CNN, was the stuff that dreams are made of. His campaign was a living explanation for why local TV news stations cover car accidents and house fires. The daily mental terrorism of Trump’s presidency is even better for these networks; this administration has most of the country hiding under the bed in fear, but many of those folks have the news on in the background just in case, and CNN pulls down a fair share of that dustbunny viewership.
The larger hypocrisy requires a bit of digging to uncover. CNN is owned by AT&T. A large majority of the tens of millions of dollars in political contributions made by AT&T have gone to Republicans. AT&T contributed the maximum $250,000 amount to George W. Bush’s inaugural fund. The company was caught red-handed in 2006 after opening up its domestic client records to the National Security Agency, a practice that began in 2001 in defiance of federal law.
This past spring, it was revealed that AT&T paid $600,000 to a consulting company set up by Trump bagman and convicted felon Michael Cohen in order to gain influence with Trump regarding AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner. Those payments began three days after Trump took office. AT&T has been an industry leader in the fight to eviscerate net neutrality rules. William P. Leahy, one of AT&T’s most senior executives, sits on the Private Enterprise Board of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
It sounds for all the world like AT&T is a company Trump should love. The Republican patronage, the influence money secreted to friends, the authoritarian invasion of privacy, the attack on net neutrality, and let’s not forget the ALEC connection to every horrid right-wing idea about prisons, guns and immigration: AT&T seems to have it all. It’s ironic that CNN, by way of the ATT&T/Time Warner merger, is actually part of the kind of “Worldwide Network” Trump was tweeting about.
Why, then, is AT&T property CNN under such assault by this White House, to such a degree that Trump wants his own “Worldwide Network” to counteract its influence? Why is Trump himself in possible legal trouble for trying to block AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner? The answer to that, along with so many of the other issues we are confronted with, is found in the bleak vastness of Donald Trump’s galactic ego.
CNN caters to power, bolsters and protects it, but Trump is too much for even CNN to stomach, no matter who its parent company is. Its criticism of him and disdain for him is eerily familiar to Trump. Like the wealthy and powerful New York elites who laughed at him as he sat outside the party with his nose pressed to the glass, CNN represents the denial of the fawning Trump has always sought, fawning he believed was entirely his due after he won the election.
Donald Trump does not want a “Worldwide Network” of anything. He wants a Trump Network, National Trump Television, broadcasting lavish praise of his powerful excellence 24 hours a day. CNN helped get him elected because the coverage of his campaign was great for ratings. Now that he’s in, CNN covers him critically because it’s great for ratings. Trump, for CNN, is a means to a financial end … and once again he is on the outside looking in, denied the acclaim he believes is his due, howling “Fake News!” to cover his wounded fury. Attacking the Time Warner deal was an extension of that fury. It really is that simple.
What isn’t simple is the fact that Trump, in attacking the detestable CNN, is also attacking the larger institution of journalism which I am a part of. I find equal parts humor and horror in the idea of CNN being made out to be some kind of martyr after all the deep damage it and the other corporate news networks have done over the years, but they are journalists in their own way. Governmental assault on them is an assault on us all, and that must not be allowed to stand.
Trump is terrible. AT&T is terrible. CNN is terrible. I choose CNN and the First Amendment though it galls me, because I must, and pray for daylight in this long, strange night.