January 30, 2023
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ColumnsEye on the Media

Too much focus on the White House

The Donald Trump White House has provided no shortage of drama and intrigue for reporters to cover. Stories abound of Trump’s paranoia, his destructive decisionmaking process and the internal power struggles among his top aides.

It’s one, big reality TV show, and many mainstream journalists have turned it into a seemingly neverending carousel of headline news. Unfortunately, too often lost in the noise are important stories that have a tangible impact on people’s lives.

Consider the fact that in the early days of the Trump administration, coverage of an apparent civil war between Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner dominated cable news channels as well as influential newspapers like The New York Times and Washington Post. The Bannon-Kushner drama was exciting, and a legitimate story of interest. But its actual impact on people’s lives didn’t rise to the level of stories such as Trump’s continuation of Barack Obama’s drone program and the war in Afghanistan, the scrubbing of climate change data from the EPA’s website or Trump’s cavalier attitude toward using nuclear weapons. None of these stories received the media amplification given to the Kushner-Bannon beef.

The Anthony Scaramucci saga is another example of the media’s obsession with superficial drama at the expense of substantive stories. Trump’s communications director for an explosive 10 days, Scaramucci quickly became a media sensation after calling a reporter from The New Yorker and unloading on Trump aides such as Reince Priebus and Bannon in an expletive-filled rant. Entertaining? Yes. Cause for front page stories and aroundtheclock coverage on cable news? No. At a time when Republicans in Congress were attempting to pass a bill that would have taken health insurance away from millions, the media should have recognized there were stories more important than interoffice drama — even if that drama occurred in the White House.

This isn’t to say these kinds of stories aren’t important. How the White House works together and functions is important. But as Vox noted, top Trump aides are using leaks to the media to arbitrate their personal spats. That might be effective at drawing clicks and higher ratings for the media, but every minute on cable news or page on The New York Times devoted to the rising or falling stock of a White House staff member is space that won’t be used to discuss issues much more important to the public good, such as the economy or climate change. In the media’s neverending quest for viewers and clicks, it’s the public — not the Trump administration — that loses.

Evan Popp can be reached at epopp@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @evanpopp22