How to explain the remarkable success to date of Presidential candidate Donald Trump? Some thoughts from Mark Leibovich, Chief National Correspondent of The New York Times Magazine:
If you're watching television this morning, chances are Donald Trump will be in your face somewhere. He has been interviewed on some media outlet nearly every day for the last six months, often more than once.
He can be blustery, compelling, and of course, controversial. But Trump's abiding consistency is that he always delivers -- not substance, always eyeballs. He is box office personified, the broadcaster's deal with the devil.
This isn't to say that Trump has not tapped into a justifiable frustration among American voters. But his appeal to the Republican electorate exists separate from the spell he has cast upon the once-solemn gatekeepers of the Fourth Estate.
Think of the media as addicts, and Trump as its heroin. Or maybe it's the other way around -- Trump is the addict and attention is HIS heroin.
"The press is not an honest group of people. Look at all those cameras back there."
It is an unholy codependence either way. And like most codependencies, the arrangement is both comfortable and possibly quite unhealthy.
The media have always walked a tightrope between journalism and entertainment. Trump's ascendancy has tripped that balance decisively in favor of the latter. We journalists claim to hate ourselves over this. How dare Trump insult our news organizations and call us "losers" and talk in circles!
Yet, Trump is the abusive guest who is always there, always invited and -- yes -- usually the life of the party.
As Trump made his free media rounds last week, he said something that struck me for its subtlety -- which is not a quality he is known for. He said he felt "guilty" about having spent so little on campaign advertising while his opponents have parted with tens of millions of dollars to get their messages out.
Embedded in Trump's proclamation was a taunt: "SUCKERS!" he seemed to be saying to the junkies who will no doubt keep booking him. "You think I need to pay for this? Buying ads is for losers!"
For the record, I found Trump's backhanded chest-thump to be well-earned. It is not his fault that news programmers would line up to film Trump clipping his toenails if he allowed access to the spectacle (which he might).
But let's put aside blame and concede that when uttered together, "news and entertainment" will always represent a kind of conflict of interest.
And certainly, the media's Trump dependence has yielded winners: it's been great for Trump, great for ratings, and great for enhancing the public's interest in politics -- if not public interest per se.
Is it too quaint to wonder if the only loser here might be our democracy?
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