Skip to main content
opinion

Former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures while golfing at Trump National Golf Club September 13 in Sterling, Virginia.Win McNamee/Getty Images

We return now to Trumpland, as seen on TV. It’s been a busy few months of turbulence, both in Trump shenanigans and in the TV news world that covers them.

Where to start? Well, Maggie Haberman of The New York Times and a CNN analyst, posted this on Twitter the other day: “As Trump has been out of office over the last 20 mos, a rotating cast of aides has been tasked with following him around the golf course at the club he’s at and giving him positive reinforcement from Twitter and wherever else they find it on the web, per ppl told of the practice.”

It beggars satire, this matchless spectacle of Trump being surrounded on the golf course by a cadre of sycophants whispering praise from the internet into his ear. It is also very, very funny.

What’s not so funny is the vast context of it all. Relaying only good news and praise to a political leader is, in this context, the job of Fox News. Countering that obeisance is the job of CNN.

Or so we thought. Under new corporate management, CNN’s new task is to epitomize what the new bosses there call “neutrality.” That’s all well and good, but it’s more than notable that the first person to be terminated at CNN under the new regime in August was Brian Stelter, whose reporting and weekly show Reliable Sources, was about the media. It’s a rather peculiar tack to take: In search of legitimacy and neutrality, first fire the media critic.

The real reason behind the decision, one suspects, is that Stelter, whose work critiqued many news outlets, including CNN itself, had become a punching bag for Fox News hosts. They mocked him often.

Sean Hannity called Stelter, “A full-time Fox News psycho-stalker hall monitor.” And referred to him as “Humpty Dumpty.” Tucker Carlson, in his usual way with wit, referred to Stelter as a “eunuch.” Stelter’s real crime, in the eyes of Fox News, was writing the book, Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth, in which he revealed internal dysfunction, sexual harassment scandals at Fox News and what he called an “incestuous relationship” between Fox and the Trump White House. Obviously, he had to go; Fox News got its wish, and CNN got rid of him. (CNN will continue with a Reliable Sources newsletter, written by Oliver Darcy, but it will be a “reimagined” newsletter.)

Former CNN host Brian Stelter left the network in August.GABBY JONES/The New York Times News Service

Meanwhile on Fox News these days, the weird gets weirder. The other night, Tucker Carlson made one of his forays into vaguely supporting the QAnon conspiracy theories, which hold that there is an elite cabal of pedophiles. There isn’t. But Carlson’s approach is to suggest in a muddled ramble, that children are being deliberately “sexualized” in a society that allows transgender teachers to dress in a certain way. He used an incident in Canada to make his incoherent case, essentially a case against LGBTQ+ people working in education or health care. He went to a reverie of a fantasy in which “neighbourhood dads” dispense “instant justice” to certain people.

This sort of casual but incoherent incitement to violence needs to be called out. Media critics do that and now there is one fewer influential one. That needs to be called out too. Skepticism about TV news is healthy and is not separate from the definition of “neutral” coverage. Everyone in TV news is a grown-up and should be able to handle it. The critics and the viewers do not have to pay obeisance to highly paid talking heads on TV.

American all-news TV is fundamentally unfit to cover this crisis

This column was initially inspired by Fox News coverage on Wednesday of the announcement by New York Attorney-General Letitia James of a civil lawsuit against Donald Trump and his company. Coverage lasted mere minutes. Then the channel cut away, with anchor Harris Faulkner saying, “Some of this is really inside baseball unless it is your tax dollars in New York. Some people may even accuse it of being political because we’re 48 days away from the midterm elections.”

And with that, this column thought again about the lackeys traipsing golf courses, plodding along beside Trump, anxiously searching their phones for honeyed words of praise to pass on to the great man. (Is there a better description of “fake news”?) We await the Saturday Night Live sketch about that, but in the meantime, there’s one less media critic to tackle the lackeys in cable news as they cover Trumpland.