Seemingly unaware that the West Wing has a press secretary with the power to deliver uninterrupted, televised messages directly to the American people, Donald Trump has launched a “real news” series, starring daughter-in-law Lara Trump and, as of yesterday, former CNN contributor Kayleigh McEnany. The move, while predictable — there was chatter that Trump planned to launch his own television network as early as last October, when he appeared destined to lose the election — has cued outrage.
“This look like when the post apocalyptic movie does a clip of state news to show you how theres no free press in the crazy movie world [sic],” commented Full Frontal with Samantha Bee staffer Ashley Black.
“This is the type of propaganda you’d see in North Korea,” Evan McMullin wrote on Twitter. “It erodes the people’s ability to discern truth and hold government accountable.”
A 90-second clip filmed under fluorescent lighting and apparently edited on iMovie by an inebriated high schooler “erodes the people’s ability to discern truth and hold government accountable”? Seriously?
As usual, Trump has done something tasteless but essentially insignificant, and the #resistance has wildly overstepped its bounds in response.
In fact, it could be argued that Trump’s opponents should in this case be blaming not the Trump administration but CNN’s Jeff Zucker, who created Kayleigh McEnany. Before CNN hired McEnany as a paid Trump shill, she was a no-name Fox News producer. It wasn’t until Zucker cast her as one of their resident “Trump supporters” — this is literally how she has been billed on the network over the past two years — during last year’s campaign that she exploded into conspicuousness and amassed millions of followers across social media.
This was no accident, but was part of a deliberate strategy. CNN’s 2016 coverage ran according to a simple formula, by which commentators were hired not to argue from first principles, but to unconditionally defend personalities. It was irrelevant whether McEnany or fellow Trump shill Jeffrey Lord disagreed with Trump’s actions du jour; their purpose at CNN was to stick firmly to a pro-Trump script, no matter how intellectually dishonest that script might be. The New York Times Magazine’s disturbing profile of Zucker last spring made that much clear:
As Zucker sees it, his pro-Trump panelists are not just spokespeople for a worldview; they are “characters in a drama,” members of CNN’s extended ensemble case. “Everybody says, ‘Oh I can’t believe you have Jeffrey Lord or Kayleigh McEnany,’ but you know what?” Zucker told me with some satisfaction. “They know who Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany are.”
As a result, McEnany’s move to join the official Trump team is less an act of extremism than it is an act of honesty. At least she has now embraced her role as a Trump shill rather than masquerading as something else. Given the reality of McEnany’s previously prescribed role, the pearl clutching and cries of “political campaign propaganda” from CNN’s Reliable Sources reek of disingenuousness. Arguably, CNN’s role in this game was more pernicious, given its insistence that it provides news and not entertainment. CNN, you will note, is the network that hired former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as a political commentator after he had both signed a non-disclosure agreement that precluded him from criticizing his former boss and assaulted reporter Michelle Fields. Physicians, heal thyselves.
CNN aside, there’s also a question of where these same #resistance critics have been the last eight years. Where were the howls of outrage when President Obama campaigned for reelection with the “Truth Team” initiative, which recruited supporters to refute “unfounded attacks” on AttackWatch.com, or launched his own weekly Web show, West Wing Week? That Web show, produced by the White House Office of Digital Strategy — and thus paid for by American taxpayers — ran as a feel-good mockumentary where Trump TV’s videos are rapid-fire infomercials. But better editing and a softer tone do not make the former any less propagandistic. Indeed, it was arguably more so, given that Trump seems to be bankrolling his own show, which appears on social-media channels that are paid for by his official PAC, Donald J. Trump for President.
Trump TV is about as tacky as you would expect. But given the path so clearly paved by eight years of journalistic laziness and a media class that has come to treat the White House like a spectator sport, “Real News” is a monster of the media’s creation. Trump’s perpetually ham-fisted attacks on the “Fake News MSM” appeal solely to his base and reflect the West Wing’s desperation more than its authority. They are, in other words, a sign of weakness rather than of authority. What’s CNN’s excuse?