Quick: Name the biggest story of the week.
If a clear answer didn't just spring to mind, that is probably because there are so many stories to choose from. To wit:
- Unverified claims that Russia attempted to compromise President-elect Donald Trump by collecting damaging information about him
- An investigation by the Justice Department's inspector general into FBI disclosures about the Hillary Clinton email probe
- President Obama's farewell address
- Donald Trump's first news conference in 168 days
- Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions's confirmation hearing
- Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearing
The news overload is enough to make you want to throw your hands up — or, perhaps, use them to reach for a cold beverage and a remote control, with which you can escape the transition tornado by tuning in to back-to-back NFL playoff doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday.
This is a near-perfect situation for Donald Trump.
Perfect would have been a run of positive headlines. He didn't get that. The stories about Russia and the FBI only added to questions about whether Trump could have won the election without help. Obama's speech was characteristically eloquent; Trump's news conference was predictably schizophrenic. Sessions had to ward off decades-old accusations of racism, and Tillerson had to withstand a verbal bludgeoning by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
But if Trump couldn't have perfect, the next best thing was to have all of these bad stories arrive in succession, each drowning out the one before it, until the whole week became a waterlogged mess. When every story is big and bad, none of them are.
During the campaign, Trump succeeded by giving the news media — and, by extension, voters — too many negative story lines to keep track of. Vox's Matthew Yglesias explained this well on the morning after Trump's victory, with an assist from polling by Gallup:
Back in September, Gallup presented the findings of an important research project that, in retrospect, ought to have prompted a lot more soul searching among members of the press. What they did was, over an extended period of time, survey people and ask them what they were hearing about the two candidates.
The answer is that with regard to Hillary Clinton, they heard a lot about email. With regard to Trump, they heard about nothing in particular. ...
People heard loud and clear that Clinton was in some kind of trouble related to email whereas the stories about Trump — with the exception of the sexual assault allegations, which came after this study — do not seem to have broken through. Indeed, there’s the alarming possibility that Trump actually benefited from the sheer range of negative stories about him. To cover any one Trump story — his refusal to disclose his income taxes or to commit to putting his business holdings in a blind trust — as extensively as the Clinton email story was covered would have necessarily required that less attention be paid to other important lines of inquiry into Trump.
But by trying to cover all the different negative story lines about Trump, the press created a muddle in which nothing in particular stood out.
A muddle is good for Trump — and he knows it. And you can bet that he will fill next week, inauguration week, with everything and nothing, all at the same time.