At least those news outlets aren’t truly making up stories. They are just hyping ridiculous, implausible and divisive stories as a way of making money and undermining the president.
The news media’s anti-Trump fixation has blossomed into a business model for a struggling industry. The more outlandish the headline, the more people click on it and the more ad revenue it generates. That’s also the precise model for clickbait.
The latest craze has been the push to impeach President Donald Trump. It won’t happen, yet so-called news outlets are sending out a tidal wave of digital data on the topic -- stories, videos, tweets and more. Put the word “impeachment” in a headline and watch traffic skyrocket. It’s the same strategy that has driven everything from internet memes to the NeverTrumpers.
Journalists and social media experts know that a polarized electorate means demented liberals and besieged conservatives might both click on an impeachment story. So they report on topics that would have laughed at in the past -- a mixture of impeachment-might-really-happen stories and articles on the dangers of a Pence presidency.
Some of this is standard, far-left outlets promoting the idea, for example. Ezra Klein’s Vox site urging, “The case for impeaching Trump — and fast”; The New Republic getting behind the idea that, “Democrats Should Proudly Call for Trump’s Impeachment”; and HuffPost’s especially humorous, “The Inevitability Of Impeachment.”
That’s more like wishful thinking than journalism.
Except the major news media are doing the same darn thing. There’s USA Today asking, “Impeachment: Donald Trump's worst nightmare?” and CNN’s legal analyst claiming, “There are lots of ways to get to impeachment.” ABC, CBS and NBC did their part when news of the alleged Comey memo was released, discussing “impeachment,” “impeachable offenses” and the scary sounding “I-word.”
Yes, some Democrats have talked impeachment. It’s mostly the far left who wanted Trump impeached from Day One or kooks and back-benchers. Those are the very politicians journalists use to manipulate an agenda -- normalize something silly or undermine the credibility of an argument. Sen. John McCain’s TV career in a nutshell.
When media outlets aren’t talking about Trump, it’s President Mike Pence. HuffPost made the argument, stating that a post-Trump GOP would be splintered. That led to them manufacturing, “The Case For President Pence.” The millenial women’s site Bustle cautioned that, “Trump Impeachment Buzz Looms Large.” Alternet even pretended his tenure would lead to, “A Nightmare Right-Wing Agenda.” And the financial site The Street chose a slightly more business version of that phrasing, “a Nightmare for Tesla and Elon Musk.” Apparently, Pence is the social conservative Freddy Krueger.
None of this is journalism. It’s rank speculation. It’s the news media at its worst, ratcheting up anger and anxiety to make some cash.
Journalists love these kinds of meaningless stories. “Is That Dress White and Gold or Blue and Black?” Who cares? Let’s get the clicks!
TV does it just as much. Does Rachel Maddow have Trump’s tax returns? Oh my Gawd! Not the tax returns!!!! Overhyped? Yep, but at least short-lived. Then there’s the NeverTrump phenomena, pushed by journalists and inside-the-Beltway conservatives desperate to derail Trump’s campaign.
That insanity lead to the Evan McMullin disaster, the bogus non-entity trying to steal Utah from Trump to throw the vote into the House of Representatives. It was promoted by many of the same conservative pundits who now attack Trump at every turn. The Donald still beat Clinton in Utah by 18 percent. Eighteen!
Nevertheless, The Washington Post was still writing about the “buzz about Utah being in play” on Election Day. Later that day, the Post reminded readers, that McMullin, “had been polling neck-and-neck with Trump despite announcing his candidacy only in August.” In all, the Post mentioned McMullin’s fruitless candidacy 217 times from August to November.
Readers got played and it’s happening again. News organizations have learned that, “Trump may be the news industry’s greatest opportunity to build a sustainable model.” And they are going to milk his presidency for every last dollar.
Barely a year ago, the Post was anguishing how the “press corps needs a new business model.” They’ve found it and journalists no longer care how legitimate their stories are.
As long as it pays their salaries and attacks Trump.
Dan Gainor is the Media Research Center's Vice President for Business and Culture. He writes frequently about media for Fox News Opinion. He can also be contacted on Facebook and Twitter as dangainor.