The Donald is the perfect antidote to perennial August news doldrums.
He’s more than a rude Clown Prince; Trump speaks for the aspirations, suspicions, frustrations and anger of millions of Americans.
An Oracle? A Cassandra? So far, Trump lacks mythic power, but his utterances won’t fade while most Americans can’t share the 1 percent’s ostentatious wealth, privileges and influence.
Hundreds, if not thousands, turn out to see and hear him. They clearly outnumber journalists drawn to the GOP’s Bad Boy.
Trump is driving the GOP narrative by eschewing politically correct euphemisms that other Republicans favor… if they addressed the same issues. The Donald embraces rude candor when others might think the same things but hold their tongues.
When Trump goes off on something or someone, it’s no faux pas. He’s giving intentional offense. Trump is the guest whose awkward outbursts leave hosts anxiously anticipating the next eruption; it will happen and it’s impossible to find friends who won’t be offended.
More than once, when I heard or read something Trump told a campaign audience, I groaned, anticipating how reporters, editors and the commentariat will react.
They have to. It’s August. What else are they going to write or blather about? Lousy air quality downwind from Washington State wild fires? Whether our treaty with Iran will erode the fortunes of California pistachio growers?
Compared to the GOP’s obfuscations, coded messages and failure to address cultural, scientific, racial, ethnic and political problems, Trump is refreshing. Sort of like Elvis after the Four Lads.
Think George Wallace. Ross Perot. Ralph Nader. They disturbed the conventional campaigns and enlivened seemingly endless campaign stops and repeated stump speeches.
Today, other GOP presidential aspirants waste campaign resources — money, time and energy — trying to explain why they won’t comment on The Donald’s latest comment that they’re commenting on.
More than one thoughtful commentator has noted how this takes the steam out of many other candidates’ “it’s all about me” appearances.
Trump is great copy for jaded journalists. Campaign reporters delight in his gauche pronouncements.
Their coverage demonstrates what I call “blackbird journalism” — one flies off and the others follow. One writes a story and others follow or risk an editor’s text asking why someone else has a better story.
The Donald or reactions to something he said is news almost daily. It took the live broadcast murder of two young Virginia TV journalists — a reporter and a videographer — to briefly bump Trump from the news.
Trump distracts too many reporters and editors from serious political coverage; but hey, it’s August.
Critics are justified when they complain that other stories get too little attention because we’re having fun with a Republican who doesn’t play well with others.
We’re not unique.
In Canada, where I spent the past month, a similarly dominant story challenged falling oil prices and the slumping Canadian dollar on Canadian Broadcasting Corp. national radio newscasts.
Canadian media’s big story revolves around the trial of Sen. Mike Duffy. He faces 31 charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust related to his government expense claims.
The sexy part is how Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s then chief-of-staff, Nigel Wright, privately and personally repaid Duffy’s dubious $90,000 living expenses.
Wright wrote the cheque after Conservative Party officials refused to cover the bill when they learned it would be three times what they’d initially been told.
The repayment was meant to end the embarrassment of the governing Conservative Party’s senator appearing to cheat taxpayers.
Canadians knew about the expense claims and the senator’s promise that he’d personally repay the reimbursements. Then Duffy broke his promise and the prime minister’s senior staff were involved in deceptions and lies about the repayment.
Coverups often are a greater scandal than what they are meant to conceal.
Canadian senators are appointed by prime ministers. They rarely are distinguished, sort of like minor ambassadorships filled with donors by U.S. presidents.
AFP, the French news service, said, “Duffy, a former broadcast journalist, faces several years in prison if convicted, and has vowed to air the Tories' dirty laundry during the court proceedings.”
AFP summed up the prosecution case this way: Duffy is accused of “disbursing taxpayer funds to friends and family for personal expenses including for hair and makeup, and for a fitness trainer. He is also accused of filing travel expenses for ‘partisan political activities’ such as giving speeches at party fundraisers, and for personal trips including to buy a puppy, and attend his daughter's play and several funerals.”
Daily testimony leads the news with revelations or appraisals of how the evidence might affect Prime Minister Harper’s political fortunes during the national election for October.
Harper appears to rival Hillary Clinton in his loathing of the news media. No wonder. At every public event, reporters ask about the repayment scandal regardless of what he’s talking about.
And every time, he denies being part of the repayment scheme, saying something like, “I learned about the repayment from the news media” and “the trusted, responsible people have lost their jobs on my staff.”
Politics reporters from across Canada interviewed on CBC speculated whether trial revelations will affect the Conservative Party’s re-election hopes. That’s the story that keeps them awake as they and Harper criss-crossed Canada in August, knowing they have weeks of campaigning to go.
Beyond partisanship, many Canadians are tired of the scandal story or, at least, the emphasis on it in national news media.
While most Canadians say they worry about the economy - especially the falling value of the Canadian dollar and diminished exports of energy, forest and farm products - reporters focus on the trial testimony.
It’s a complaint familiar to Americans familiar with reactions to Trump coverage.
Recently, some Harper supporters were so aggressively insulting to the traveling press corps that the encounter became newsworthy. CBC allows language too rough for American broadcasters but CBC censors bleeped some of what Harper supporters screamed at reporters.
That confrontation gave politics reporters and commentators something new to talk about and the Harper campaign issued the obligatory statement disassociating itself with the foulmouthed supporters.
So we have The Donald and Canadians have their coverup scandal in the Prime Minister’s Office.
And serious questions about news judgment on both sides of our border.
• Murders of a Virginia TV morning reporter and videographer had little or nothing to do with their trades.
The shootings were a carefully planned, if lethally loony, reality show of commonplace workplace anger.
Killer Vester Lee Flanagan II was a journalist who’d been fired by their station management.
He knew the shooting would be broadcast live on their station’s morning news and he knew where to find morning reporter Alison Parker and videographer Adam Ward.
Coverage has been self-indulgent, continuing and extensive. It’s always a big deal when one of our own is murdered and it inadvertently illustrates how little we usually report about victims and circumstances of homicides each year.
I’ve learned more about Parker and Ward than almost any homicide victim in the Cincinnati area.
And, as I began this note, their deaths had nothing to do with the work they did. Workplace killings by disgruntled (and often former) employees aren’t that unusual.
But hundreds of journalists really are killed worldwide because their stories and images angered someone. Not the Virginians. They weren’t killed over a story. The official whom Parker and Ward were interviewing wasn’t the gunman.
Flanagan wasn’t anyone they’d interviewed. Rather, he had grudges against both victims that originated in workplace antagonisms.
• Too many anchors, news readers and reporters spend too little time with photographers/videographers. Stories about the murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward commonly refer to Ward as “her” photographer. Every photographer/videographer with whom I’ve been lucky to work with resents such assertions.
I usually led introductions because I was the person/name they expected. I didn’t introduce colleagues as “my” photographer. They all had professional identities apart from mine. They didn’t belong to me.
I introduced them by name and position: Enquirer photographer Glenn Hartong. Before that, it was (Minneapolis) Star photographer Jack Gillis or Zambia Times photographer or UPI photographer Tommy Murray.
• The Enquirer’s Chris Graves turned a boring Gannett corporate announcement into a well-told and personalized story the other day.
After years of rubbing corporate thumbs and index fingers together in the universal “pay me” gesture, Gannett and The Enquirer are opening two years of Enquirer back issues to readers without charge.
Chris recalled how she used newspaper archives to research a part of her family legend and, yes, there was more truth than exaggeration if the old story was to be trusted.
But two years isn’t the same as all of its digital files. Maybe someday, our local Paper of Record will emulate the New York Times total, free digital online access.
The first daily I worked for — in Rome — lacked an archive/library. “Research” involved asking a colleague with greater seniority what they could remember. Luckily, they included a retired Christian Science Monitor correspondent who’d been in Rome so long that he probably covered Garibaldi and the battle of Porta di San Pancrazio (where I lived).
The next two dailies — the Minneapolis Star and The Enquirer — had superb libraries. Papers were clipped and stories were filed within hours of publication by bright, thoughtful coworkers.
Smart reporters routinely checked those clippings to see what they didn’t know. Smart editors never assumed that was done and asked, “Did you check clips?”
For years, Enquirer online archives have reflected Gannett’s desire to monetize everything but bathroom breaks. Oh, there were fees during the Good Old Days if outsiders wanted copies of clips. Eventually, thefts of clips by outsiders forced The Enquirer to limit outside hands-on access, but the morgue/library was a community resource for decades.
Still, it would be curmudgeonly to not show some gratitude for fresh scraps from the skinflints’ table. Two years beats the week or two that we used to get free if we could navigate the online archive.
Enquirer archive access was a separate, ghastly problem. I rarely succeeded in finding what I needed. It was easier to let a search engine do the work.
Maybe the change says that Gannett and The Enquirer have concluded that brand loyalty is enhanced by making The Enquirer archive more useful.
• Proof readers are ancient history at American newspapers, but you’d think someone at The Enquirer would read Page 1 print-edition cutlines for accuracy. Friday’s lead story had this under the photo: “He become fed up with the park’s condition.”
Other than inattention to the showcase page, this suggests two more not-so-felicitous possibilities: reliance on computer spellcheckers rather than human intelligence or, worse, editors whose grammar is so challenged they thought “become” was correct.
• Botched polling led to bizarre expectations in the British general election earlier this year. A leading London editor said later that the greater fault was news-media focus on poll results rather than issues.
As our endless presidential campaign heats up, most American news media are making the same mistake. Do I really care if Bernie is ahead of Hillary in South Slobovia while she leads nationwide? Or The Donald leads in Idaho cult camps while a dozen or more competitors vie for attention?
A poll is a snapshot, not destiny. Well-done polls can be valuable — or, at least, influential — in campaign strategies and tactics. However, treating polls as definitive news is lazy journalism: Polling firms hand reporters everything. All journalists have to do is slap on an eye-catching lead sentence and headline and roll out the rest of the handout.
What I want to know is how candidates’ staffs are using those results. That will tell me about their approach to key issues beyond winning.
• For decades, we’ve depended on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. for news and commentary when we’re at our fishing cabin in northern Ontario. CBC’s FM radio signal is reliable where we have no Internet, no phone and no TV.
For the past decade, coincidental with the first national governing majority of the Conservative Party, CBC has audibly declined.
CBC remains reliable and often thoughtful. What is obvious, however, is a lack of resources is forcing CBC to reduce original programming and to repeat daily programs. Some, it seemed this summer, were repeated in each 24-hour period. For instance, the one-hour Current, a good radio magazine, originates during the day, is repeated later (the “review”) and then again overnight: the reviewed revived.