We have been told for two years now that President Trump possesses magical political powers. When a bad news story comes along, Trump’s Twitter thumbs spring into action, and with one mighty tweet of “FAKE NEWS,” the president smites the offending story out of existence.
Meanwhile, Trump has kept up his regular assaults on the media, which are obviously supposed to be destroying the press’s credibility and reducing negative coverage of him to a non-factor. As Trump himself sometimes points out, Americans know that his presidency is a great success despite the fake-news media’s efforts to tear him down.
But it turns out that not even Trump finds this state of affairs satisfactory. His communications director, Bill Shine, has now resigned, and The Post reports that a key reason is that Trump is unhappy with media coverage of himself:
A former president of Fox News and protege of the late Roger Ailes, Shine, 55, was recruited to the White House last July by Trump to help buff the president’s public image and direct his communications strategy.
In recent months, however, Trump has complained about his media coverage and blamed Shine in part for not making it more positive, according to current and former administration officials.
The New York Times adds this:
The president frequently criticized him to other advisers, saying that his own press coverage had not improved, according to several people familiar with Mr. Trump’s comments. And he was seen as ineffective, developing few ideas.
Remember that Trump unabashedly thinks of his press people as not mere spinners on his behalf, but as naked propagandists. Trump established this at the very outset of his presidency, when he sent out poor Sean Spicer to blast the media after it accurately reported on his paltry inaugural crowd size, and to accuse the press of deliberately downplaying it.
Spicer has long since been discarded for failing to magically get the independent media to adequately reflect Trump’s greatness, and now Shine, too, has proved unable to please him in this regard. The Daily Beast reports that Sean Hannity, one of Trump’s most devoted propagandists outside the White House, had originally sold Trump on bringing in Shine. But according to a former Fox executive, Trump decided that he’d been “sold a bill of goods.” Shine couldn’t get it done.
But the question is, what could get it done? Consider the headlines we’ve seen in recent days. Some of the most unflattering ones are just straight reporting of ways in which Trump has failed by his own metrics. For instance, migrating families arriving at the border just spiked to new highs — meaning Trump’s efforts to deter them from coming through all manner of cruelty have failed. When those numbers were low, he saw that as a sign that he was succeeding. But now they’re spiking. This is just a factual matter that no amount of magical spinning can make disappear.
On North Korea, Trump got slammed with headlines after his efforts at a deal with North Korea abruptly collapsed. But it was Trump himself who inflated expectations by absurdly blustering early on that “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea." This also led to more bad headlines when administration officials were forced to contradict it.
Then there’s the trade deficit in goods. It has now ballooned to its largest point in U.S. history. This is a fact that Trump’s own Commerce Department announced. It has always been idiotic of Trump to invest this metric with the importance that he has, but he did that, and so he is failing by a metric that he established for himself, out of folly and ignorance. No amount of magical spinning can make that disappear, either.
Also on trade, Trump is getting hammered by headlines reporting that he’s likely to end up making a face-saving deal with China that doesn’t produce the concessions he originally wanted. But it’s Trump who sold himself as the Greatest Dealmaker in History, then launched us into a trade war while absurdly claiming that “trade wars are good, and easy to win." This guaranteed that the headlines showing the damage being done by those trade wars, and the failure to secure the deal he wants, would be all the more brutal. Trump’s total lack of interest in learning the complexities of issues, and his unshakable confidence in his ability to bluster his way through anything, is the problem here.
From Jane Mayer, we have now learned in unsettling detail that the hiring of Shine, a former Fox News executive, represented a key part of the near-wholesale merger of Fox and the White House into one large and unified propaganda operation on Trump’s behalf. The programming on Fox is so pro-Trump, according to Mayer, that he “has told confidants that he has ranked the loyalty of many reporters, on a scale of 1 to 10.” Trump regularly gets his “executive time” information from Fox, and then tweets it out to all his followers, creating a kind of impenetrable feedback loop of pro-Trump messaging.
But it turns out that there’s a whole news media outside that feedback loop that is telling the truth about Trump’s presidency, and the results are unflattering to him. And not even a former Fox News executive was able to do anything about it.