“There’s an old saying in Tennessee; I know it’s in Texas, it’s probably in Tennessee, that says, ‘Fool me once, shame on… shame on you, fool me — can’t get, we can’t get fooled again.” — George W. Bush
Imagine a former president calling a major news network and demanding to be interviewed. Not in a sort of, “I have some insight into the current mass uprising in Tehran, based on my administration’s negotiations with that regime,” or in a request to defend a policy or their actions. No, just, “Hey, I want to be famous; you, Geraldo Rivera are famous; give me some prime-time exposure.” Even from a former president, it’s hard to imagine Walter Cronkite leaping at the chance to give Lyndon Johnson national exposure for funsies.
Yet, that is exactly what happened on CNN’s “Town Hall” event on Wednesday, in a televisual event that I avoided like an angry ex at a party. And for the exact same reasons — it’s unproductive, it leaves everyone more exasperated and bitter, it opens old wounds, and it’s miserable. There is, at least, a lesson at the heart of those encounters, one which American media has yet to learn: “This person is toxic, and it serves no one to come back to them.” I learned the lesson to avoid Trump sometime after his first debate with H. Clinton in 2016, which I can only describe as “deafening.” Anderson Cooper, apparently, didn’t watch that debate, because he reenacted it on Wednesday. And, look; I get it. There’s an ongoing revolution in Iran, there’s an election in Turkey, soon; NATO is expanding, Russia’s bloody slog in Ukraine continues to grind up resources; there was a coronation last weekend; we’re seeing one of the biggest labor strikes of the decade, and there were multiple mass shootings. It’s a slow news week. All of this underscores that the American Television News Industrial Complex is a dinosaur stuck in a tar pit, and is just thrashing and struggling against the inevitable.
But, why focus on what happened recently, when American news outlets can focus on something more concrete, like the 2024 election? It’s not as if something might happen in the next 18 months that will upset the delicate predictions that drive cable news, like in 2019 and 2015.
On Wednesday, Anderson Cooper and CNN, for reasons probably based on models that were profitable in 1983; held a mid-week news conference for Our Lumpiest President. Again, I didn’t watch it, because, inevitably, to prove his point, Donald Trump will stab a person on live television to demonstrate how beholden a dying medium is to him, and I’m not a fan of human sacrifice.
By all accounts, Donald Trump used this free publicity to air his December 2020 complaints, all over. Which he’s done with only a single day’s pause ever since. That’s not the interesting aspect of all this. The interesting part is that Millennials got another abject lesson in that the designers of an institution haven’t got a clue as to how that institution works. And, to be clear, I’m not an expert — I certainly couldn’t produce an hour of television — I’m just slightly more aware of the impact an hour of television has than Anderson Cooper, who is, at best, studiously lazy and incompetent, or, at worst, openly corrupt in the name of Nielsen ratings. Never mind the optics of putting a guy who just got slapped with a $5 million penalty in a sexual assault case, he’s good for ratings.
In the wake of what Michael Fanone described as, “A volcano of bullshit,” there’s been some understandable backlash to CNN going all-out to spoon-feed a former president in a way that’s hard to imagine them doing for anyone else, because the twits in charge of the network are assured, Trump is good for ratings. Never mind the civil exposure and economic issues that follow Trump like a tail. Trump is good for ratings, so, in the decluttered minds of CNN and Anderson Cooper, Trump is good. They won’t say it, out loud, because they know that will taint their carefully crafted image of neutrality and objective reporting, but they will carefully condemn him when the cameras are on. It’s like giving taking your kid out for ice cream after the principal calls you to discuss Timmy violently assaulting another child — the actions reward the terrible behavior much more than any lecture or detention.
I’m discussing this because CNN has had eight years to figure out who and what Trump is, and what motivates him. I’m just an invested observer, but, I can tell you; Donald Trump just wants to be on television. That’s it, full stop. The man only ran for office to bolster his leverage his negotiations with NBC, because Donald Trump just wants to be on television. He only begrudgingly stayed in office because he got to call in to Fox News every morning, and be on television. Live, unedited coverage is Donald Trump’s raison d’etre. And Anderson Cooper just gave it to him.
After the inevitable outrage of giving a fascist free publicity, CNN and Cooper’s response was feeble and defensive. Cooper, in the classic, “America: love it or leave it” vein, responded that viewers were free to stop watching CNN. Lovely gesture, Anderson, but, if you’re desperate enough to bring Our Lumpiest President on stage with absolutely no restrictions or physical restraints, you’re already desperate.
The other defense was that the American public need to know what Donald Trump is up to, now that he is no longer on television. Anderson also presented a bizarre argument, presumably written in an alternate dimension, that Americans don’t know about Donald Trump. After weeks of the Dominion Trial, I’m fairly certain we’re all familiar, and we now have text messages noting how much every producer at Fox News despised him.
The good news is, if you consume news media like a normal 21st century American, you might’ve watched a livestream of CNN’s bullshit-a-rama; you might have watched a YouTube cut of the greatest moments; you probably read about it on Breitbart or Politico; you almost certainly didn’t watch it on cable news. And that’s the new part of the geopolitical age that Anderson Cooper doesn’t understand, but Donald Trump does.
First of all; I should note that the only person I, personally, know who still watches traditional television, is my 97-year-old grandmother, whose dementia prevents anything like a smart phone. Literally every single other person has a Wifi connection and a Netflix subscription. I don’t know if CNN has figured out how to monetize the Internet in the same way they have DirecTV, but their insistence on using Nielsen ratings suggests that they’re still using the 2015 business model that relies on a steady supply of elderly people who can’t figure out how to change the channel. I don’t have access to CNN’s internal numbers, but, I have to assume that there’s an overriding desperation if they invite a man who just cost Fox News a billion bucks in legal fees.
Donald Trump’s grand and uninvited return to the national landscape needs to be seen in the same light as a soft reboot or an uwanted sequel — it signals that the world has gone on without Trump or CNN’s Executive Board, and they’re returning to the last time this business model was profitable — 2015, when giving Donald Trump unfettered coverage raised ratings. Unlike those morons who own CNN, Trump actually understands the interplay between longstanding media institutions and 21st century media. It’s how he got elected. It’s why his comments on Mexico were played for weeks after relevance. It’s what makes him a uniquely dangerous individual to give air-time. Dear Leader knows that traditional television is just the teaser trailer for what’s happening online, and I have no doubt that he’s going to profit off of this in a way that Anderson Cooper and CNN can’t imagine. Indeed; I’ve seen some reports that Trump posted a doctored video of A. Cooper conceding some sort of defeat, in the first ever documented case of an allegedly grown man confusing a New England town hall political event for Wrestlemania (I lived in Vermont; civic politics there are interchangeable with Friday Mass in terms of boredom, predictability, and general dreariness).
BUT, this shows that Trump — or Javanka — understood that we would all see some headline about a stolen election, and we’d be linked to that video within minutes. Anderson Cooper’s bizarre response wouldn’t even register until long after Trump made his point.
In this whole, grotesque charade of off-putting fascist freakishness; CNN and Cooper’s response might be the weirdest. Cooper claimed that it was part of responsible journalism to present voters with opposing views. Good in theory, but Ron DeSantis and Nikki Hailey didn’t get a star-studded evening devoted to their personal grievances. And I’ve seen Ron DeSantis’s face and attempts to be clever, if ever there was a candidate to do Peyote and try to punch God for all of Her failings, he’s got the best case. CNN didn’t do that, presumably because Hailey and DeSantis are aware that they have to appear somewhat competent and professional before an election. The point is, the “Fair and balanced perspective” ship sailed when CNN decided that Trump screaming, unopposed, from a stage, was better than a debate, a round-table discussion, or literally any other political show format that attempts to present itself as unbiased.
Cooper also later claimed that it was important to get answers from The Donald. I would love some answers, Anderson; Trump won’t give them. One of the weirder aspects of watching the 2016 election was a man campaigning on the platform “Open, but vague, racism and genocide.” We were going to build a wall, and make Mexico pay for it! How, exactly? That didn’t come up. Donald Trump’s entire schtick is to be vague and noisy. He’s your favorite bigoted uncle at Thanksgiving, between the third and fourth glass of wine, when he knows he has to present as somewhat sober, but is still inebriated. Trump can’t unveil his plans to burn the Reichstag, becasuse they don’t exist, but it’s also not in his nature to be coy and demure when asked about them. No questions need be asked of the man who almost ended the American Experiment, because he has no answers. Cooper and CNN had eight years to figure that out, and they didn’t.
To the rest of us, all I can say is; take Cooper up on his advice, and stop watching CNN. Find a great newspaper with access to the Associated Press; you’ll be at least as informed as anyone who watches the news, and you’ll give your money to actual investigative journalists. Hell, just get your news from Alex Jones and InfoWars; you’ll be at least as well-informed as Anderson Cooper and Donald Trump.
And, as always, in the 21st century, don’t click on anything that has the word “Trump” in the headline, unless it’s in context of a deposition. These treacherous leaches depend upon attention, like any other classroom bully; the solution is to send them into the hall and refuse to acknowledge them. I guarantee you, if we do that; we’ll have responsible television personalities, who understand the power of the medium, for the first time since David Frost.
At the end of the day; Anderson Cooper and CNN’s most-obvious sin is the same sin most mainstream media outlets committed in 2015: treating Donald Trump as some inevitable force of nature, rather than a second-rate con man who duped America. Cooper, CNN, America, and all of Trump’s followers were also briefly fooled. That’s not a crime, in and of itself; but refusing to learn from that mistake will be.