WashPost’s Hornaday: ‘Tech-Savvy’ Obama Responsibly ‘Wielded’ the Media While Trump’s Dangerous

April 14th, 2017 6:45 PM

Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday penned a column for Friday’s paper reviewing President Trump’s first 100 days as if it were a movie, blasting him as dangerous for using friendly outlets to distract from his administration lacking any “core, coherent polic[ies]” that could end in “a train wreck.”

On the flip side, the liberal journalists swooned over Trump predecessors like John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama, defending their use of the media to push their agendas because “those presidents were also readers, sometimes even bona fide scholars, their references rooted in an understanding of history, political theory, economics and literature.”

Hornaday led off with Trump’s recent interview he gave to Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo and how Chinese President Xi Jinping was told of the Syrian strikes while Trump had chocolate cake.

Having clearly not seen any of the Steve Kroft-Barack Obama lovefests on 60 Minutes, Hornaday was appalled:

It was a moment that surely felt familiar to entertainment journalists. It’s common practice for publicists to invite friendly writers to a movie set for a juicy, behind-the-scenes gab fest with the filmmakers, their offer of access tacit quid pro quo for positive press.

“I will tell you, only because you’ve treated me so good for so long,” Trump said confidingly to Bartiromo, whose giddy eagerness to lap up Trump’s flattery recalled any number of junket hacks who have made the rookie mistake of confusing a movie star’s faux intimacy with real-life friendship. Whether she was complicit or oblivious, Bartiromo was playing her role in a common ritual of Hollywood ballyhoo, wherein a production in trouble reaches out to a reliably supine celebrity journalist to help with positive buzz.

Noting the irony of having two people with film experience in the administration (Steve Bannon and Steve Mnuchin), Hornaday knocked Trump’s lack of seriousness concerning the Russia allegations and deflecting by using friendly outlets to change the discussion. 

So, when Hillary Clinton goes on Ellen or Obama is interviewed by a woman who’s bathed in cereal, that’s worthwhile, but Trump talking to The New York Post? Absolutely not! She continued:

Trump is following another time-honored showbiz practice, whereby at the first sign of trouble colleagues are quietly replaced on a picture or otherwise passive-aggressively dumped (remember when Mel Gibson was supposed to have a cameo in “The Hangover Part II,” then suddenly didn’t?). Using Fox Business, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal the way shrewd showbiz knife-fighters use Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, Trump has been busily playing down Manafort’s and Page’s roles in his campaign. Meanwhile, he compulsively watches his co-stars’ dailies, evaluating each performance — and then their meta-performance on “Saturday Night Live” — to determine whether they should stay or go. In an administration where optics are all, White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s survival may be less threatened by his disastrous news conference on Tuesday than the way Melissa McCarthy will surely reenact it on Saturday. 

Employing the same dismissive tactics used for other conservative documentaries, she smeared the ones Bannon worked on as “full of lurid imagery and lizard-brain appeals to fear and paranoia, presaged the Trump campaign’s successful use of emotionalism and hyperbolic rhetoric — is in a precarious position.”

Here’s a question: If Bannon’s films were sinister, what was Fahrenheit 9/11 or any of the other movies by Michael Moore?

Hornaday closed with the double standard touting Democrats as responsible and smart while those on the right are just, well, not:

From the days of telegenic John F. Kennedy to the tech-savvy Barack Obama, presidents have wielded media and visual language to help shape, convey and distort their personas, both personal and political. But until now, those presidents were also readers, sometimes even bona fide scholars, their references rooted in an understanding of history, political theory, economics and literature. No matter how manipulatively they deployed media showmanship, it was in service to a core, coherent policy. The Trump administration might be the first not only to be created and enabled by pop entertainment, but also to define success and failure solely according to its values.

As someone who has written about filmmaking for 30 years, I’ve seen this movie before: With his constant concern about appearances and impulsive zigzags on such issues as intervention in Syria, Chinese currency manipulation and the obsolescence of NATO, Trump is behaving like a panicked filmmaker whose haphazard tweaks and reshoots result in a muddled jumble of tone, theme and narrative focus. (Thursday’s bombing of Afghanistan would count as yet another “whammie” in an adrenaline-fueled action movie.) Without a strong script — the defining foundational document of every great film — the audience is subjected to an ad hoc of stunts, set pieces and effects-driven spectacle.