Keith Olbermann’s 10-Point Guide to Surviving the Media Coverage of Donald Trump
By Keith Olbermann
ONE HUNDRED AND TWELVE DAYS into my career as a sportscaster-turned-newsman, Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton were dropped on top of me with no advance notice. One morning I’m in Los Angeles, headed to the set of “Third Rock From The Sun” to interview John Lithgow and prepare for the following weekend’s Super Bowl; that afternoon I’m doing a talk-back with Tim Russert about how the president might have to resign.
The next 228 shows are all about Clinton and Lewinsky. Except for those that are about Lewinsky and Clinton. We do an hour each night, whether there’s news or not. Then we debut another live hour. Sometimes a third. Each time I tell the audience that the coverage of the saga is overwrought or unjustifiable the ratings go up. Each time I publicly beg to leave or change the subject the ratings go up further. My hair begins to turn gray and I begin to look even more like a news anchor and the ratings go up again.
If I could survive all that, you can survive the coverage of Donald Trump, on television, radio, the Internet, the blogs, the sites, and what I’m sure you’ll swear by now is a little receiver drilled directly into your skull while you were sleeping.
Let me rub the Lewinsky-Clinton scar on my own noggin for good luck, and -- if you can hear me over your own screams of “Why are they covering Trump all the effing time?” -- I’ll offer you the following path to freedom:
1. STOP ASKING “WHY ARE THEY COVERING TRUMP ALL THE EFFING TIME?”
They’re doing it for the money. Duhhhh. Save yourself the aggravation of looking for journalistic malfeasance, political motives, secret cabals or sinister corporations acting stealthily behind the curtain.
No stealth. No curtain. No apologies. “Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now?” asked a giddy CBS Chairman Les Moonves late last month. “The money’s rolling in and this is fun.”
Moonve, to my experience the most honest executive in media (not that it’s a suffocatingly full elevator), summed it up: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. … This is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”
What else do you expect from commercial-based broadcasting? Or commercial-based digital and print journalism? And Moonves is just talking about ad revenues here. He hasn’t even touched on the subjects of ratings, or of all the free news product that Trump -- and the Fight To Save Us From Trump -- has generated.
From networks to the net, the mantra “If it bleeds, it leads” has been replaced by “If it’s Trump, the numbers jump.”
Debates and these horrifying Town Halls (which reveal to the world that American public education failed circa 1960) cost more to produce than do candidate speeches -- but they also kill off even more hours. And better yet, they produce ratings approaching 10 times the ordinary high water mark. And you can keep talking about these debates or Town Halls the next day on your other news shows, even if the event wasn’t on your network.
And don’t point the finger only at television. You. Are. Reading. This.
The effect the Trump magic wand has had on the web is a little more difficult to quantify, but it’s there. I truly worry about the future of mankind every time Donnie opens his Clutch Cargo mouth, but he has been right once in this campaign: The news organizations should be paying him for filling all this time and space. Of course, only Trump would fail to recognize that, just as assuredly, those news organizations should also be billing him for all the free advertising. The two figures would presumably be a wash.
You want to ask a pertinent question? Don’t ask “why are they covering him so much?” Ask “why are we listening/reading/watching them cover him so much?”
2. REMEMBER THE MATH
Sure, Donald J. Trump could be elected. Like Barry Goldwater could have been elected. Or like Huey Long could have been elected. Or like George W. Bush might have been elected. <--(HA! )
But here’s some context you rarely hear: Trump’s numbers still pertain to just 42% of the country. That’s the latest reliable number of self-identified Republicans and Republican-leaners. Even with the collective media Trumpathon, he has a little over a third of them. Generously, that’s 20% of the whole country.
Will it grow? Certainly. If he adds all of Marco Rubio’s support, he’d be up to about 51% of Republicans, and several pundits would self-defenestrate. But -- generously -- that’s still only 25% of the whole country.
You need other easy-to-digest numbers to suggest orange objects in your mirror may be smaller than they appear? Try Trump’s boast -- and its unquestioned repetition everywhere -- that he was “Number 1 with Hispanics” in Nevada. David Damore of Latino Decisions remembered the math and put out a nice little pie chart that indicated that if you considered all the Nevada Hispanics who caucused for Trump and compared them to all the Nevada Hispanics who caucused for another Republican plus all the Nevada Hispanics who didn’t participate or aren’t Republicans, and Trump lost among Nevada Hispanics, 93% to 7%. Not all of the seemingly Trump-positives are that truly Trump-negative, but there’s a lot of loose numbers flying around there.
Still think he could win? How about the calculation that to be elected in a general election, Trump would need to win about 70% of the White Guy vote. I believe the last time anybody did that well in votes by White Guys was when only White Guys had votes.
3. KEEP AN EYE ON THE RATINGS
On the largely uneventful evening of Friday, March 4th, 2016, during the two key cable news hours of 8 and 9 p.m. ET, Nielsen reports that the three networks averaged a combined 4,866,500 viewers. A week later, in the same hours, at the peak of coverage and awareness of Trump’s cancellation of his Chicago conclave, the three networks averaged a combined 6,579,500 viewers.
That’s only a 35% jump. Good grief, a well-photographed car chase can make the combined audience grow 35% faster than you can say, “O.J. and A.C. are road tripping again.” It seems to me that this, along with the steadily dropping GOP debate ratings, may be the early harbingers of Trump Fatigue.
Trump Fatigue has happened before. Donnie’s “The Apprentice,” launched on NBC in January 2004, averaged 20,700,000 viewers an episode, and at season’s end ranked as the 7th highest-rated show in broadcast television. Three-and-a-half years later the show’s average viewership had thinned out to 7,500,000 and it was in 75th place. Even with the lipstick of “celebrities” added to the pig in question, the show never again cracked the Top 40, and by the spring of 2013 was 84th in the rankings.
And that was just when Trump was on TV once a week. Now, he’s on every night.
In short, television ratings may actually be useful for once. Keep an eye on them. While still rummaging for your passport.
4. REMEMBER THERE’S STILL A CHANCE A REPUBLICAN TAKES TRUMP DOWN WITH HIM
Marco Rubio may have chickened out, but that doesn’t mean Ted Cruz will.
Pundits have actually been reasonably convincing about the likelihood that Republican leaders are facing a choice between disastrous defeat on November 8 and disastrous defeat on November 8 plus the destruction of the party as they know it.
As you watch and read, remember what many have noted: Trump’s loss could be assured half an hour from now with the utterance of one sentence by the right person. If Rubio had been smart, he would’ve responded to the first question he received at the Miami debate by complimenting the moderator and apologizing for having not answered the question -- and then saying, “Donnie, I’m dropping out. And I’m endorsing John over here. And what’s more, Donnie, if you get the nomination, I’m voting for Hillary because you’d actually be worse than she would.” That bucket of cold water would shock the conservative base out on their Trump fever dream.
Now, Marco would have to go into hiding for awhile. But after the latest extraordinary popular delusion fades, Rubio would’ve been a lead-pipe-cinch for the 2020 presidential nomination. Now it’s left for Cruz and Kasich to contemplate it.
Likely? No. But if you’ll recall a point I made elsewhere about the Republicans of 1864 actually thinking about de-nominating Abraham Lincoln two months before that election, or how the Democratic National Committee abandoned Harry Truman in mid-train trip in 1948 to save money, it has happened -- and you have to admit, it would be funnier than seeing Trump’s hair revert to it’s actual configuration.
Good grief, for a quarter century now, the Republicans have been doing nothing but gerrymandering and jerry-rigging and Jerry-Springering who can and can’t run and who can and can’t get elected. This is finally the time for them to step up and cut somebody’s legs out from under them!
5. TRY TO IMAGINE WHAT TRUMP LOOKS LIKE WHILE HE’S DOING PHONERS ON TELEVISION
Phoners? There are no phoners! There are no phoners in television! Yet there you see him -- correction, hear him -- every day, calling in to every live show except “Watch What’s Happening Live: Vanderpump Rules.”
Phoners are for emergency stories or emergency camera failures. Or, for guys who don’t want to bother taking the hours required to put on the 10 coatings of Sunkist No. 12 Spray Tan, or who haven’t yet finished how ever long it actually takes to build The Great Wall Of Combover.
So, imagine this: What combination of pasty, jaundiced, jowly and balding is Trump when he starts talking, his mouth always too close to the phone? Does he make the same disconnected gestures? If his real-time image suddenly and unexpectedly appeared, would you recognize him? Or would you mistake him for, say, Churchill? Or Zero Mostel?
Admittedly there may be no practical value to trying to imagine what Donnie looks like while he’s literally phoning it in. But it’s funny.
6. TAKE HEART. REPORTERS ARE GETTING THEMSELVES BODY-SLAMMED SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO.
If you were to employ one moment of true meaning from the coverage of Il Trumpo to try to survive that very coverage, it would be found in the transcript of the fracas wherein his already off-the-wall campaign manager allegedly threw a Breitbart reporter to the floor.
If you couldn’t really see the light bulb turning on above the head of Michelle Fields, the reporter, you at least could visualize it beginning to form. From her comments in the transcript of the audio recording obtained by Politico: “I don’t understand. That looks horrible. You’re going after a Breitbart reporter, the people who are nicest to you?”
When the light bulb forms, it will shine dimly down on right wing and left wing media alike, getting beaten up with Trump’s do-it-yourself libel suit kits and his hope to change the First Amendment into the “Fist Amendment.”
7. REMEMBER THAT FOX NEWS IS NOW ON YOUR SIDE
Look, this can change in an instant and Trump can cut a deal with Roger Ailes to, I don’t know, take Sean Hannity off his hands and make him vice president. I mean, if out of nowhere Hitler and Stalin could agree to a non-aggression pact (for a while anyway), then Trump and Fox could, too. But for now, enjoy the spectacle of many of Fox’s leading lights fighting with all their zealotry against the nominee-presumptive of the party which, since the last century, they have said is the only thing standing between their viewers and ISIS or al Qaeda or WMD or The Communists or The Anarchists or The Redcoats or Whoever It Is This Time.
They had to rationalize to confused viewers how former Fox-fave Ben Carson would only endorse Donnie when he knew “that he didn’t really believe those things.” They’ll have to contort themselves to continue to defend their only ascendant star, Megyn Kelly, without blowing off a Trump base that’s ever more fervently attacking her. Soon enough they’ll have to explain either why they aren’t proselytizing for what has always been Fox’s Quadrennial Chosen One: the Republican nominee -- or why they only just started.
Depending on their tone on a given day, this is like watching your two least favorite people in the world bashing sockfuls of manure over each others' heads, or witnessing the Puya Raimondii Plant during its once-a-century bloom.
8. THINK ABOUT WHAT HAVOC MIGHT HAPPEN TO TRUMP IF HE ACTUALLY BECOMES PRESIDENT
This is also surprisingly consoling, and helps buttress your immunity as the Trump Virus spreads. Remember the lyric/proverb/bromide “Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it”?
Candidate Trump has shown himself so naive -- even gullible -- about how things actually work in government that President Trump could implode by January 21. Last month the New York Times revealed the amazing story of his methodology for donating to Rudy Giuliani’s last campaign for mayor of New York: He put some checks in an envelope and mailed it to City Hall. I did something similar once with a girl I liked. I taped some quarters to a letter and mailed them to her. I had an excuse. I was seven. (Aww. )
A week after the naiveté of his Giuliani donations was revealed, hardline ex-CIA chief and Air Force General Mike Hayden, who previously defended one form of what we mere civilians call “torture,” bluntly told Bill Maher that not only would he refuse to go along with Trump’s idea of torture, but that no serving military officer would carry out his orders to effect it. Oopsie. El Presidente loses control of the military on day two.
And the cornerstone to the Trump campaign platform (well, campaign splinter) -- the promise to hate and expel the scapegoat minority community du jour and make sure the wall door hits them the way out -- could go south very quickly (pun shamelessly intended). Government data shows that from 2009 to 2014, 140,000 more people left America to go to Mexico than the other way around. And yet the numbers of undocumented residents here still outnumber the entire U.S. military and every police officer by at least five to one. This makes for a troublesome logistical question about mass deportation: “How?”
A Trump administration might actually start with the changing of the presidential seal to read “Gimme Your Lunch Money.” Or with the first State of the Union message ever delivered as graffiti. Or with the first president ever removed from office during his inaugural address, because if by Trump’s definition a son born here to foreign-born parents isn’t automatically an American citizen, why should a grandson born here to foreign-born grandparents -- like Trump -- automatically be one?
9. THINK ABOUT WHAT HAVOC MIGHT HAPPEN TO TRUMP IF HE DOESN’T BECOME PRESIDENT
This will also ease the pain of the coverage. Spend some time each day contemplating what the coverage isn’t covering. At least equal to his chance of election is Trump’s chance of being buried under the greatest landslide ever. His unfavorables are rising, and all but a couple of outlier polls show him being lit up like Christmas by Clinton or Sanders (to say nothing of turning Democratic support for either one of them into something like Obama Squared).
And then consider something I haven’t seen mentioned once: There is no road back for a defeated Donnie. The words and hatreds he’s expressed publicly would not be tolerated in business. His contracts would be cancelled and his associates would peel away. His building boards would at least entertain rechristening. Maybe something more victorious, like “Alf Landon Tower.”
The Hollywood Reporter followed up on my cri de coeur about selling my Trump building apartment by noting that I’m hardly alone. A high-for-the-market number, more than 11% of the units at Trump Bunker -- I’m sorry, Trump Tower -- “are up for grabs or changing hands.” But that might just be because it’s located on Fifth Avenue, which Trump speculated he could stand on and shoot passersby without doing any damage to his campaign.
If you’re not a New Yorker, you might get the impression that Trump is one of our tougher citizens. In fact he has a reputation as a rather foppish character. Tough guys here do not ride limousines or crib free front-row Yankee tickets or wear rouge or man-tan or makeup or rust or whatever that is on his face.
You’ll never comb over in this town again, Bub.
10. DON’T WATCH ANY MORE DEBATES
What exactly are you going to hear for the first time at this point during a debate? The exploitation of a foreign terrorist threat that is actually far less dangerous than the four-year old son of a gun-owning mom? Vaguely worded promises on to which vaguely functional humans can project their own ineffable fears and prejudices? Confirmation that Trump has carefully studied the campaigns of Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum, and the rhetoric of Steve King and Louie Gohmert and identified their flaw: that they shouldn’t have hated to that degree, they should’ve hated more?
Skip the debate. Watch a two-minute report somewhere. Read a recap here. Hell, read a tweet. Does it really take you two hours to understand Trump’s position on something? Just assume he’s everything you ever feared from every piece of political science fiction only with a broader base thanks to years of being on reality TV: He’s Senator John Yerkes Iselin with a sizzle reel. He’s The Trumpchurian Candidate.
Quite seriously: if you hadn’t watched any of the debates thus far you would have saved yourself at least 26 hours.
Think of that -- literally an extra day of life. And if you’ve been consuming this campaign, you sure could use it.
Keith Olbermann is a political and sports commentator and reporter. If you’re looking for an apartment in New York he can give you a good lead.
http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/ ... z43aPrTPdF