All the elements for a big-time Washington dust-up were there.
The former head of a cable-news giant — damaged by his association with a sexual-harassment scandal — named as a high-ranking White House adviser.
His wife’s social media posts, full of ugly commentary and crackpot theories, surreptitiously deleted.
A president already accused many times of sexual misconduct himself.
But most of the nation — along with most of the news media — shrugged it off. The elimination of Starbucks’s plastic straws got people more riled up than Bill Shine’s being named as President Trump’s communications chief.
Announced near the Fourth of July holiday, the Shine appointment dropped into the news cycle like a hot dog falling through the slats of a backyard grill.
There was a slight sizzling sound — and then silence.
“The press picks up the cues about what will resonate,” and in this case, the judgment seemed to be that it didn’t matter much, said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of American Press Institute.
There is, he noted, “a rough calculus” that depends partly on what else is happening. In this case, plenty: “Immigration disputes, a Supreme Court vacancy and a summit with the leader of a country we used to consider our worst enemy.”
Rosenstiel, for one, wasn’t surprised that the Shine announcement didn’t get much traction — partly because it lacked a key element: surprise.
“It’s not surprising that a man who has a history of protecting a sexual predator would be forgiven by this president,” Rosenstiel said.
Trump has had nice things to say about Roger Ailes, the late Fox News chief whose serial sexual harassment Shine is accused in lawsuits of having enabled, and about cable-news star Bill O’Reilly, who paid big settlements to sexual harassment accusers before being driven from Fox News himself. Shine, a top executive, was ousted — though it was called a resignation — in mid-2017.
Nancy Erika Smith, lawyer for some of the women who made those accusations — most notably former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson — is less sanguine.
“We live in a patriarchy, where there is a normalization of outrageous sexism,” Smith said. “I mean, we’ve got Trump making ‘Me Too’ jokes.”
And so, she said, “Bill Shine slides in like one of the boys, and the people who run the world don’t think it’s news — it’s like, ‘oh, well, Roger’s dead’ so it doesn’t matter,” she said.
CNN’s Chris Cillizza also thought the Shine development was seriously underplayed.
“The real story here — and why this should be a very big deal,” he wrote, “is the fact that Shine resigned last year after being accused of covering up a series of sexual harassment scandals involving on-air talent at the network over the last several decades.” (Shine has said very little about several lawsuits in which he was named, but he has denied wrongdoing.)
Even the crude tweets and anti-scientific theorizing of Shine’s wife didn’t break through as big news.
Darla Shine, a former TV producer and the author of a self-help book, deleted her social-media posts, which mocked black celebrities for supporting Black Lives Matter, agreed with President Trump’s description of “shithole countries” and promoted anti-vaccination beliefs that have been scientifically debunked.
As my colleague Paul Farhi aptly noted on Twitter after the site Mediaite dug up her deleted tweets: “File this story under a heading marked, ‘In Another Administration, This Would Have Been a Big Deal. Now It Barely Registers.’ ”
Of course, it’s not just the Bill and Darla Shine stories that result in a collective shrug. It’s almost everything short of babies at the border being ripped from their mothers’ breasts.
Many Americans seem increasingly intent on averting their gaze.
For Trump’s base, stories pointing out the president’s outrages don’t matter — they amount to liberal hand-wringing, just another example, in their eyes, of the media trying to bring down their beloved, duly elected president.
And for others — including plenty of those with no love for Trump — it’s all too much.
And many journalists are worn down, too.
“Over the course of two years, he has dulled the senses of the people who cover him,” Rosenstiel said.
Trump’s hunger for constant attention keeps the craziness flowing all day every day, leaving journalists and the public overwhelmed and not always able to distinguish what is a real controversy and what is a manufactured one.
In Trump World, there is no weekend, there is no evening. The news cycle is perpetual.
As journalists, Rosenstiel said, “we’ve lost our own sense of proportion.”
That’s worrisome. It means that important developments don’t get the attention they deserve, that norms can be shredded with impunity.
It means that Bill Shine can emerge from reputational disaster at Fox News and be rewarded with a high-ranking job as what used to be called a public servant.
Whatever. Pass the mustard.
For more by Margaret Sullivan visit wapo.st/sullivan