You Think?! MSNBC Wonders If Media Too ‘Fixated’ on ‘Sharpiegate’

During a brief moment of self-awareness on Friday, MSNBC actually entertained the possibility that the media played a role in exaggerating the minor controversy over a White House weather map being altered with a Sharpie. The discussion in the 9:00 a.m. ET hour worried that the press was too “fixated” on the topic and just creating a “feedback loop” of excessive coverage.

“So couldn’t the President and the administration have handled this differently straight out of the gate?...Instead, this is now a five-day story,” anchor Stephanie Ruhle declared. While MSNBC senior media reporter Dylan Byers criticized President Trump for the flap, the journalist also held his media colleagues to account: “I will also note though, at the same time, I do begin to wonder five days into this story if there’s not also a question to be raised about the media’s fixation with this story.”

 

 

On Thursday, NewsBusters exposed the magnitude of that “fixation,” finding that in just a 12-hour period on Wednesday, MSNBC and CNN devoted an astonishing 145 minutes of air time to  “Sharpiegate.”

Byers continued:

I mean, at a certain point, like, how much are we sort of participating in a feedback loop and what exactly are we trying to achieve? Are we trying to demonstrate to audiences that the President and his administration are inept? Don’t we think that so many years into this administration that the amount of Americans who believe he’s inept already know he’s inept and the amount of Americans who support him aren’t even listening to us?

He concluded: “And the vast majority of Americans are probably wondering, yes, why is the President so fixated on this? But at the same time, why is the media so fixated?” Ruhle asked the same question: “Why is the media?”

Byers then cited one specific example that stood out him, which just so happened to involve one of MSNBC’s competitors:  

And I swear, I go to CNN.com and I see one of their foremost journalists, Jake Tapper, and he was writing a lead story on the website about how Trump invited a Fox News journalist into the White House to convince him of this. I’m like, not to sound like a politician, but there are kitchen-table issues here that so many more Americans want to read about.

Ruhle chimed in: “I’m going to sound like an NBC employee, why don’t you just stop going to CNN.com and save yourself the time.”

The two seemed forget that MSNBC actually suggested Trump could be sent to jail over the mistaken map.

Ruhle noted The Washington Post also warning: “For Trump, this is a fight worth having because it pits the media as oppositional by looping criticism of initial inaccuracy and his flawed defenses as attacks on him and, by extension, on his supporters.” She observed that the whole story would allow the President to argue: “The media is just fixated on kicking my head in over nonsense issues. Ignore them. Just listen to me.”

Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason acknowledged that “it’s certainly true that he likes to criticize the media and that he likes making the media be the opposition party.” Though he still defended the obsessive coverage: “I think, look, these are some of the things we have to deal with as reporters, but when the President says things and tweets thing, we also have a responsibility to report about them.”

Byers agreed, but still maintained:

I just think that the media also has a role in sort of dictating what the terms of the conversation are. And if we are going to let President Trump dictate the terms of the conversation, we are going to be stuck in a feedback loop where we are constantly dealing with gates. You know, Sharpiegate, whatever-gate. And there’s gotta be a more sophisticated way to cover the administration.

Ruhle agreed: “Great point. Really, really good point.”

If only the media ever actually learned from such instances.

Here is a transcript of the September 6 segment:

9:56 AM ET

(...)

STEPHANIE RUHLE: Dylan, we should make clear that there was a point in which Alabama was potentially in the hurricane’s path. That was ruled out by the time the President tweeted about it. But it wasn’t unheard of. So couldn’t the President and the administration have handled this differently straight out of the gate? Right after he made, I’ll call it a mistake, and said, “You know what, mistake. Got confused.” Instead, this is now a five-day story.

DYLAN BYERS [MSNBC SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER]: Sure. So I have two sort of points of view on this. One is it is a baseline expectation that in a time of a national emergency you should be able to trust the White House to give you accurate information. And I also think it is absolutely fair to question the mental fitness of a president who is so obsessed with proving himself right on this issue that it becomes a five-day story.

I will also note though, at the same time, I do begin to wonder five days into this story if there’s not also a question to be raised about the media’s fixation with this story. I mean, at a certain point, like, how much are we sort of participating in a feedback loop and what exactly are we trying to achieve? Are we trying to demonstrate to audiences that the President and his administration are inept? Don’t we think that so many years into this administration that the amount of Americans who believe he’s inept already know he’s inept and the amount of Americans who support him aren’t even listening to us?

And the vast majority of Americans are probably wondering, yes, why is the President so fixated on this? But at the same time, why is the media so fixated?

RUHLE: Why is the media?

BYERS: And I swear, I go to CNN.com and I see one of their foremost journalists, Jake Tapper, and he was writing a lead story on the website about how Trump invited a Fox News journalist into the White House to convince him of this. I’m like, not to sound like a politician, but there are kitchen-table issues here that so many more Americans want to read about.

RUHLE: You don’t want to sound like a politician, well, I don’t want – I’m going to sound like an NBC employee, why don’t you just stop going to CNN.com and save yourself the time.

Jeff, I want to share a little bit about how The Washington Post explained it: “For Trump, this is a fight worth having because it pits the media as oppositional by looping criticism of initial inaccuracy and his flawed defenses as attacks on him and, by extension, on his supporters.” The Washington Post is kind of echoing what Dylan is saying here. The President – does the President like this? Because it says to America, “The media is just fixated on kicking my head in over nonsense issues. Ignore them. Just listen to me.”

JEFF MASON [REUTERS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT]: Well, I think there’s a couple factors there. One, it’s certainly true that he likes to criticize the media and that he likes making the media be the opposition party. He does that in his rallies, he does it in his tweets. So I think we are definitely seeing that here. I think the other piece of that is when he genuinely believes he has a legitimate grievance, he gets irritated. And so I think we’re seeing that irritation manifest as well in the grievance, that he just can’t let it go. And he keeps going after it and going after it. To Dylan’s point, I mean, I think, look, these are some of the things we have to deal with as reporters, but when the President says things and tweets thing, we also have a responsibility to report about them.

BYERS: And I should just add, I don’t question that at all. I just think that the media also has a role in sort of dictating what the terms of the conversation are. And if we are going to let President Trump dictate the terms of the conversation, we are going to be stuck in a feedback loop where we are constantly dealing with gates. You know, Sharpiegate, whatever-gate. And there’s gotta be a more sophisticated way to cover the administration.

RUHLE: Great point. Really, really good point.

(...)

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