Donald Trump has utterly transformed the way the media covers the presidential election. Now, running on issues is considered a weakness by both Trump and the media. Try as you might, you will see almost zero coverage on any actual issues this week. Trump and the Alt-Right dominate the media’s thinking. When Tom Brokaw screams that Hillary needs to see a neurologist immediately, you can see just how fundamentally news coverage has been altered.
And unless you spend hours daily on Twitter, you will be completely mystified as to how this is happening. But it’s happening because Trump turned Twitter into the dominant medium this campaign, even more so than television itself, and on Twitter the news cycle runs in seconds, with everyone trying to be the first person to tweet the latest story. When Gary Johnson made his What is Aleppo goof on Morning Joe (on MSNBC), he was barely a minute away from the set when panelist Mark Halperin–one of the country’s leading political reporters–got him on his iPhone. Within two minutes that conversation was broadcast on the air, with Johnson still inside the building, but even more remarkably, Halperin tweeted about that phone conversation while still talking to Johnson. That news cycle was literally less than sixty seconds, and What is Aleppo was trending within two minutes (I watched it happen.)
I think the reason that news coverage of the campaign is so distorted is that political reporters and pundits are addicted to Twitter. 140 characters or less. Even telegraphy was not so terse. Ironically, though, vastly more of us voters get our news on social media from Facebook instead of Twitter, and the disconnect between media and voters has never been so stark. We each live in our own social media universes. You and me here, on Facebook, and reporters and pundits on Twitter, and neither platform can access the other. That happens second hand, via television news. Twitterized reporting is stretched out into news stories and pundits shouting at each other, which filters into Facebook and down to us. “I was just asking a few farmers about grain prices & all they wanted to talk about was how the Clinton campaign handled the media Sunday” Mark Halperin tweeted today. It’s like policy issues don’t even exist.
Trump will lose the election–he gets slaughtered on Facebook–but his campaign stays even in the media because he tweets incessantly, and the media follows every tweeted utterance like it is a message from on high. No one, not even Hillary now, can compete for the media’s attention when the media has become conceptually twitterized. It certainly beats doing any real issues reporting. You can’t discuss, say, the ramifications of the new Filipino president pivoting his nation away from the U.S. and towards China in 140 characters or less. Anything politically newsworthy today can be no more than a catch phrase. Even sound bites are too long for Twitter. And certainly sound thinking is.
The Gettysburg Address, a mere 272 words long, has 1,369 too many characters and spaces for Twitter. 87 yrs ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty & dedicated to the prop that ppl are created equal. That’s about all that fits. Then on to the real news that Lincoln picked up a case of smallpox in Gettysburg.