Donald Trump likes to pretend he’s no fan of cable news.
“The W.H. is functioning perfectly, focused on HealthCare, Tax Cuts/Reform & many other things,” he tweeted last month. “I have very little time for watching T.V.”
That is, of course, not true. Trump is obsessed with cable TV news. He doesn’t just watch the shows, he tweets about them too – as he did earlier this week in the midst of a CNN interview with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Democrat.
Trump not only watches lots and lots of cable TV, he also cares – again, a lot – what the major figures on the airwaves think about him. Hence the courtship and then dissolution with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. Or the ad hominem attack on CNN’s Jim Acosta. Or a hundred other examples of squabbles Trump has started after watching what he took to be unfair coverage of him and his campaign.
We now have definitive proof of Trump’s cable TV addiction. This, from CNN’s Dylan Byers, is startling:
“In the wake of almost every event he holds, whether it be a rally, a bilateral press conference or a White House ceremony, Trump is presented with a packet of screenshots showing how the television networks covered the event, two senior administration officials told CNNMoney. This enables him to see the chyrons – the headlines and captions on the lower third of the screen – that were being broadcast during the event.”
To be clear: This is not actual news stories that are being printed out and handed to Trump. These are screenshots of television news – with particular emphasis on the so-called “lower thirds” where the text of what a person is saying usually appears.
That’s some next-level stuff by Trump. (I work for a TV network and printing out screengrabs to see the chyrons is stunning even to me!) It shows how invested he is in his image, and how much he believes – rightly, I think – that his image is created and maintained by cable TV.
It’s also a stark contrast with Trump’s predecessor in office, Barack Obama, who proudly refused to watch cable news of any sort.
“He’s a voracious consumer of the printed word, even the electronic printed word, but he doesn’t — he doesn’t watch cable news,” former White House press secretary Jay Carney told CNN’s Brian Stelter in 2014. “I have spent, you know, countless hours with him on Air Force One, especially in the conference room where we always had the TV on, and it was never, in any of the trips I ever took with him, tuned in to cable news.”
That Trump is as deeply obsessed with cable TV is somewhat understandable. This is someone who came of age in the New York City media market – the most active (and cutthroat) this side of London. And, even as a young professional Trump was deeply engaged in shaping the media’s perception of him. He famously/infamously created a young PR executive named “John Miller” (it was Trump) to tout the manliness, sexiness and overall appeal of Donald Trump to reporters.
Trump’s entire persona has been shaped by his interactions with the media. And, since the rise of cable TV, that has always been Trump’s preferred vehicle for information and insight. (Never forget his acknowledgment that he took much of his military knowledge from “watch[ing] the shows.“)
Trump, at 71 years old, isn’t changing his ways. Which means the TV is always on in the White House.