During an appearance on Sunday's edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof admitted that the media has an addiction to covering President Trump, leading them to avoid covering other newsworthy topics. He flushed this argument out further in a recent New York Times op-ed titled “Our Addiction to Trump.”
Host Brian Stelter appeared to agree with Kristof, declaring that “I'm a Trump addict. I think I’m willing to admit that. I think all roads lead to Trump right now.” Kristof then admitted that he also suffered from Trump Addiction: “My wife and I, we find ourselves, our pillow talk is sometimes about Trump.”
Kristof acknowledged that many in the media saw Trump as an antidote to their old business model: “As long as we have our cameras focused on him, then audiences will follow.” Kristof also admitted that the media breathed a sigh of relief that “there was somebody we could cover that could generate these subscriptions.”
Stelter and Kristof then played footage of President Trump’s recent rally in Elkhart, Indiana, where he argued that despite their intense hatred for him, the “fake news media” does not want President Trump to sail off into the sunset, telling the enthusiastic crowd “when I’m not here, their ratings are going to sink.” While Stelter stated that “I don’t think that’s entirely true,” he did mention that The New York Times and other publications have seen increases in subscriptions in the age of Trump.
In his column, Kristof wrote: “I'm not arguing that we avert our eyes from Trump or mute our criticism. Far from it. But we have to figure out how to spare bandwidth for the genocide in Myanmar, opioids in America, and so on.” Kristof said that this task might be easier said than done because any network that decided to abandon their round-the-clock coverage of President Trump to cover one of these less appetizing and less scandalous stories would risk losing viewership to “a rival network that puts a Democrat and a Republican in a studio and has them yell at each other.”
Towards the end of Kristof’s appearance on Reliable Sources, he pointed out that “as a nation, we tend to have our worst policies towards issues that are difficult to talk about or that are invisible. We can be part of the solution. We can help leverage these issues and, you know, put them on the agenda. And it's hard, and we have to figure out how to build a business model for that kind of thing. But maybe a starting point is to have a conversation about that.”
Kristof cited the decline of American life expectancy as a result of suicide, drug and alcohol abuse and crises in work, self-esteem, employment, and living standards as examples of “difficult” and “invisible” issues.
By and large, it does not look like the media will take Kristof’s advice to dial down their coverage of President Trump and focus on the issues that affect “invisible America.” The love-hate relationship between President Trump and the legacy media will continue for the foreseeable future. It remains to be seen how many more journalists will follow Kristof’s lead and admit to their Trump addiction.
BRIAN STELTER: Is the news media addicted to Trump news? Is it time for an intervention?
STELTER: Joining me now, Nick Kristof, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times. Great to see you in person here.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: Good to be with you.
STELTER: I am a Trump addict. I think I'm willing to admit that. I think all roads lead to Trump right now. But you pointed out in a recent column that that can be a problem. How so?
KRISTOF: So, I mean -- and let me express my own addiction as well.
KRISTOF: You know, my, my wife and I, we find ourselves, our pillow talk is sometimes about Trump.
STELTER: Oh, terrible.
KRISTOF: But I do think that we have to acknowledge that there is so much more happening in the world than Donald Trump. And we in the media are essentially all Trump all the time. And, frankly, it's a little rude to say, this, but I think cable television is -- it's particularly true of cable TV.
STELTER: It is. Yeah. Yeah.
KRISTOF: And the upshot is that we risk not covering a lot of really important things at home and around the world. And we complain that President Trump is, you know, is parochial, isn't paying attention to important things around the world, and we're absolutely right. But that can also be said about us.
STELTER: Well, there's always been a critique of the American press that it's too focused on politics, Washington inside baseball, and not focused enough on real world issues that affect communities. And I guess the point is, that's even more true now, because Trump sucks up all the oxygen.
KRISTOF: I think that's part of it. And, also, I think, frankly, that there is obviously a crisis in journalism, and our old business model has been collapsing. And then along came Trump, and he's a bit of the solution to our, to our business model. As long as we have cameras focused on him, then audiences will follow.
STELTER: Now, that's interesting that you said that. He brought up something similar at his rally a few days ago. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT TRUMP: So I said, unless they give me an extension for the presidency...
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
TRUMP: ... which I don't think the fake news media would be too happy about.
TRUMP: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Actually, they would be happy, because, when I'm not here, their ratings are going to sink.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Now, I don't think that's entirely true, but there is a Trump bump that we have seen in television ratings, in "New York Times" subscriptions, et cetera.
STELTER: So I suppose, on an individual and an institutional basis, we have to reckon with this.
KRISTOF: Yeah. And I think we have to acknowledge it. You know, in 2016, frankly, I think we in the media to some extent blew a historic election because we were so relieved that there was somebody we could cover that would generate these subscriptions. And then, as you, as you remember, there was some anxiety in newsrooms that Hillary Clinton was going to be elected and government would be boring again, and our audiences would desert us. Well, I mean, that did not happen.
STELTER: Isn't this really about proportionality? Here is part of the column you wrote. "I'm not arguing that we avert our eyes from Trump or mute our criticism. Far from it. But we have to figure out how to spare bandwidth for the genocide in Myanmar, opioids in America, and so on."
KRISTOF: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we're focused on one conflict, which is basically the Washington conflict. And that's important. And we have got to cover that. But there are all these others out there as well, and that I don't think we're adequately covering those, and, you know, for very understandable reasons. If -- it's easy for me to write this as a columnist, because, you know, I don't -- I'm far enough out of the game, I can write columns that only my mother will read, and that's fine.
KRISTOF: But if I were executive producer of a TV show, I can understand that if I sent a camera crew off to Myanmar to write about the genocide against the Rohingya, then my audience is going to drop compared to a rival network that puts a Democrat and a Republican in a studio together and has them yell at each other. And that's a real problem. And I don't really have a solution to that.
STELTER: You also wrote in the column -- quote -- "The biggest Trump scandals aren't those unfolding in Washington, but those devastating the lives of poor and vulnerable people in distant American towns." Again, that's harder to cover, and the resources are not always there. But I really like the way you framed the scandal, the real scandal, being outside Washington.
KRISTOF: That's right. I mean, I come from a part of Oregon that has -- that is indeed pro- Trump in part because it did get neglected and because there has been a real crisis.
You know, American life expectancy has gone down two years in a row, whereas, in the rest of the industrialized world, it's gone up. And this -- if this were happening because of terrorism, we would be all over it. But it's happening in really boring, nondramatic ways, through suicide, alcohol abuse, through drugs, because of a crisis in work, a crisis in self-esteem, a crisis in employment, in living standards. And I think we have kind of dropped the ball on that. And it helped elect President Trump, I believe. And I think, in turn, his policies are going to magnify that problem.
STELTER: What a thought, that if these people were dying from terrorism, there would be wall-to-wall coverage right here. But because it happens in the shadows, one at a time, it's almost invisible to us.
KRISTOF: Yes. And that invisible America, if you will, I think, is one that, because we don't cover it adequately, because we don't talk about it, we don't develop good policies to address it. I think that, as a nation, we tend to have our worst policies towards issues that are difficult to talk about or that are invisible. We can be part of the solution. We can help leverage these issues and, you know, put them on the agenda. And it's hard, and we have to figure out how to build a business model for that kind of thing. But maybe a starting point is to have a conversation about that.