In all the hubbub over Donald Trump’s announcement that he was skipping Thursday night’s GOP debate on Fox News, one thing that has been glossed over is CNN essentially promising Trump free airtime. Rather than appear at the debate, which is held in Iowa days before the state’s caucus, Trump will hold a special event at Drake University that is advertised as a fundraiser for veterans that will occur at the same time as Fox News’ broadcast.
Now, let’s be honest here. This whole thing — pending it actually occurs and Trump doesn’t back out last minute to show up at the debate — will just be another rambling, stream-of-consciousness rant, just like every other campaign rally of his that has been covered live by CNN, Fox and MSNBC. Sure, he’ll make some passing references to the vets — even though veterans groups have already rebuffed his attempts to use them as political pawns in his fight with Fox — but the whole night will just be about Trump talking about how awesome Trump is and how all his haters suck. Especially Fox News and Megyn Kelly.
None of this is breaking news, of course. This has been The Donald’s modus operandi for the past six-plus months. It is all about keeping the media attention squarely on him. Do something outrageous, say something offensive, make some off-the-wall announcement…and then watch the press trip all over itself covering the latest stunt. This will hardly be the last time the celebrity billionaire does this shit.
However, the truly interesting thing at play here is that CNN is seemingly trying to supplant Fox News as the network of choice for the white resentment crowd. During the Rise of Trump, Fox News has had a tough time getting the GOP Presidential frontrunner to play by the rules they’ve laid out over the past two decades. They are the gatekeepers of the Republican Party. They control the narrative. They decide who gets the positive coverage for their base audience. Yet, Trump has flipped the script on them.
Yep, now in the ultra-conservative, alt-right world, Fox News is part of the mainstream liberal media. They are serving a leftist agenda and are totally biased against the right. In its long-time service to the Republican Party as its propaganda wing, Fox News didn’t realize that its own creation could turn so violently against it. By constantly making President Obama out to be the most radical and dangerous force in American history, by demonizing minorities, by fear-mongering over Islamic terrorism and illegal immigration, Fox emboldened conservatives to keep pushing the envelope towards their utopian vision of a white America. And they’ll be damned now if anyone, including the GOP and Fox, are going to stand in their way.
And as Trumpism takes hold amongst a significant portion of this country, CNN is more than willing to pander to that audience if it allows them to slice away at Fox’s commanding lead in the cable news world. Besides handing over a chunk of primetime to Trump to do what he wants, the network has provided an open forum for him and his supporters to disseminate his ‘policies’ on a daily basis. One contributor, Jeffrey Lord, was hired on the recommendation of the former reality TV star for the sole purpose of providing a pro-Trump voice.
While MSNBC, and specifically Morning Joe, has pushed hard with their Trump coverage, the network will never be seen as a true landing place for hardcore conservatives as long as Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes and Lawrence O’Donnell anchor the network’s primetime programming. But, CNN, this is a place that they might be able to call their own.
It is the willingness of the network to present itself as ‘unbiased’ that will help it with the alt-right. While Anderson Cooper, like Fox’s Shep Smith, tends to be unswayed by ideologues and blatant demagoguery, hosts like Don Lemon, Wolf Blitzer and Erin Burnett are more than willing to play the game. (Especially Don Lemon.) Ashleigh Benfield, Carol Costello, Brooke Baldwin and the New Day crew have already shown an eagerness to present silly discussions filled with everyday Trump supporters and give endless coverage to his campaign.
Regardless of what kind of audience turns out for Trump’s counter-programming — no matter what he says, Fox News will pull a big number for the debate — his base of white nationalists will heap praise on CNN for sticking it to the unfair and despicable Fox. Trump himself will give all kinds of over-the-top compliments to the network while simultaneously promising them big ratings in the future by showing up more and more. And CNN’s executives will love him for it as they have no interest in the news, but the bottom line and building a loyal audience.
This, folks, is the present state of our fourth estate.