Dec 20, 2021

Chasing clicks — the media’s Trump slump and shoddy journalism

Bored with Biden

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Eric Boehlert
Fearless media commentary
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One year after Trump lost his re-election bid by seven million votes, the media hangover lingers.

“Last year’s cocktail of Donald Trump, a deadly pandemic, the US presidential election and historic racial protests drove a record interest in following the news — propelling cable TV channels, newspapers and other journalistic enterprises to soaring heights of viewership and revenue,” the Financial Times recently noted. “Now, these groups face an equally breathtaking fall back down to earth.”

Call it the Trump slump, which followed the Trump bump.

Between October 2020 and October 2021, according to Nielsen data, CNN ratings were down 73 percent, MSNBC was down 56 percent, and Fox News had fallen 53 percent, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. The same grim statistics can be found for sagging news sites.  

At one point in 2019, nearly all of the 50 most popular articles on the Washington Post’s home page were related to politics, vs today where just three of the top 10 are connected to politics, the Wall Street Journal recently reported.

Here’s the fundamental problem: Following Trump’s chaotic and radical presidency, news consumers have changed their behavior, but the press — addicted to the high of the Trump bump — has been slow to adjust. After Biden’s inauguration, many Americans decided they no longer have to monitor the news throughout the day, every day; they don’t have to doom scroll late at night because there is now an adult in the White House.

That has translated into fewer news clicks and viewers. And that’s a good thing. Large chunks of the population should not live in fear of what their out-of-control president will do, and forced to tune into the news out of a sense of daily panic.

The glitch has been that the press doesn’t want to go back to ‘normal’ because the press became addicted to that incessant sense of Trump theater. (Not to mention the lucrative book deals.) Rather than viewing the Trump bump as an anomaly that does not need to be repeated, the press longs for that era’s constant drama.

That’s been the hurdle — Biden is the anti-Trump. He’s a polite, professional, and effective politician. He doesn’t surround himself with sycophants, he doesn’t fire staff at a record pace, he doesn’t get impeached, and there aren’t nonstop leaks about the daily chaos unfolding inside the West Wing. The Beltway press though, suddenly has little patience for a “boring” president.



“Mr. Biden has a long history of being long-winded,” the New York Times mocked Biden over the summer.  Around the same time, D.C. journalist Julia Ioffe interviewed elite journalists about covering Biden and compared him to Trump. “I loved covering Trump,” one prominent, anonymous White House said. “It was a great and fascinating story. It wasn’t just about him; it was about his movement and the institutions and America. The story was always so dramatic and had these larger than life characters. The stakes often felt very high. I like covering Biden, too, but it just doesn’t feel as dramatic.” [Emphasis added]

Then in August came Afghanistan and that’s when the press’ Biden coverage took a dramatic and sustained turn for the worse, as detailed recently by Dana Milbank’s piece in the Washington Post. Ending the Forever War was a big, important story but the press went over the top with weeks’ worth of often unhinged coverage.

The media seemed to like the drama of the Afghanistan story and having the news be  center stage again. So they simply stayed in the same hyperactive mode with endless Inflation! Supply Chain! and Crisis! coverage, most of which has been relentlessly, and unnecessarily, negative.

The media desperately want to tell certain stories that they think will juice readers and viewers — Dems in Disarray! The Wall Street Journal recently scored a rare sit-down interview with Vice President Kamala Harris. The subsequent article focused more on silly gossip surrounding who might be on the Democrats’ ticket in 2024 han it did on the substantive comments Harris made about key issues facing the country, such as immigration and voting reform.

Last week, when a poll showed Biden with a solid 49 percent approval rating (essentially unchanged since the summer), the network made sure to bury that fact in the seventh paragraph, while stressing all the bad news in the poll about inflation. Days later, Fox News did CNN one better. When Biden’s approval climbed four points in the network’s poll, Fox News made no mention of it until the 13th paragraph in its online write-up.

This doesn’t happen by accident. If Biden had done poorly in both those polls, that fact would have been prominently placed in the headline and in the very first paragraph. This happens when the press becomes wed to a story — a story they think will generate clicks and draw eyeballs.

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(Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty Images)


Why can’t they all just get along?

From the Daily Beast’s “Roger Stone Stirs Up Old Feud, Suggests Steve Bannon 'Gave The Order' To Breach Capitol On Jan 6”:

Stone, who has long been at odds with Bannon over the latter “testify[ing] falsely” against him during his criminal trial, took to the far-right messaging platform Telegram to suggest Bannon was behind the call to “breach” the Capitol building on Jan 6. “It is highly likely that [Steve] Bannon really gave the order to breach the capital [sic] and maneuvered patriots into dangerous positions,” he wrote. “A neophyte Steve Bannon was willing to try crazy things like this to curry favor with Trump who had a [sic] no interest in Bannon’s bullsh*t.”

For the record, I don’t believe much of anything Stone says. The infighting is amusing though.


I appeared on Jonathan Capehart’s show yesterday to discuss the Manchin news.

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Kacey Musgraves, “Fix You”

The multi-talented Musgraves just released an intriguing cover of one of Coldplay’s most enduring hits, “Fix You.” The singer-songwriter strips the meditation down to its bare bones and delivers a beautiful, haunting rendition.

And high up above, or down below
When you're too in love to let it go
But if you never try, you'll never know
Just what you're worth

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