Thanks to a less than graceful handshake during the Association Southeast Asian Nations summit in Manila, the media decided to lose their collective minds over Trump. Of course, this has played out predictably – ostensibly left-wing media calling the president an oaf, and right-wing social media getting upset – or something. First, let’s take a look at the video that started it all:
— ABC News (@ABC) November 13, 2017
While it is true that Trump really did have trouble with the social situation, it could have been worse. He could have just stood there like Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev did, without even attempting to do the handshake properly. If nothing else, maybe Trump will have a chat with his tailors about making suits a bit more generous in the shoulders for any future contortionist-inspired diplomatic activities. (Yes, pulling his suit tight probably was the cause of the much-maligned grimace he made – undoubtedly hoping not to hear a ripping sound.)
All in all, this situation should have been barely a blip on the media radar, and thanks to the general rush of headlines on a typical Monday, that is mostly how this went. However, there are people out there with “hurt feelings” over the media poking fun at Trump. Perhaps they have a short memory, and don’t recall the eight years of ridiculing “mom jeans”, demanding birth certificates, and primate references about the First Lady.
Cries against the “mainstream media” aren’t as meaningful as they once were. While the “big three” networks still enjoy a fair amount of popularity, when it comes to news coverage there really is no effective way to determine how many viewers are really engaged in their news content. Remember, local news is delivered by their affiliates, and their national news shows are either right after them or actually mingled with local content. Also, the number of people who say that they get their news primarily from the major networks have been dwindling for years, so many of the programs are swaying into the realm of “infotainment” more than ever.
When it comes to political news, viewers are generally divided on political lines, just like in everything else. The whining about the mainstream media treatment of Trump follows that line, too. This all would theoretically settle itself in the political “wash”, with the public seeking out preferred content, but we have one little problem that is making the media wars a little more heated.
Trump has an exceedingly thin skin for a president.
The media knows this.
It has almost become a sport at this point. Trump loves to throw tantrums over the media – calling some outlets fake because they disagree with him, and threatening to shut down others for “reasons.”
And his base is just encouraging the battle.
So, every time Trump does something awkward or flat out stupid in front of a camera, they capitalize on it.
Wash, rinse, repeat…
The end result is that the president gets to use his own “outrage” to monopolize headlines, and keep the media from examining what he doesn’t want on the spotlight – because they are too busy poking fun at him.
If anyone should be upset with how this is going, Trump’s detractors should be furious that the media is focusing on the trivial minutiae of every social faux pas the president does, instead of staying focused on the business of state.
The bottom line is that the media is an active participant in lowering the bar for American leadership by engaging in this game. Once upon a time, we were worried about Americans suffering from media illiteracy because they are living on a steady diet of “news-light” via social media blurbs. Now, we need to start worrying about the media itself being illiterate.