CNN  — 

On Sunday afternoon, President Donald Trump quoted snippets from a New York Times article by Michael Grynbaum headlined: “Trump’s Briefings Are a Ratings Hit. Should Networks Cover Them Live?

The essence of the piece dealt with the delicate journalistic question of what responsibility TV networks owe to their viewers to broadcast the President discussing the ongoing coronavirus epidemic given that these near-daily briefings have now turned into Trump spouting mistruths and settling scores with journalists.

Trump seemed to miss the point of the article – likely on purpose. He selectively quoted the piece to focus on Grynbaum’s noting of how well the coronavirus task force briefings have been performing in terms of TV ratings.

Here’s the first part of the column Trump tweet quoted:

“President Trump is a ratings hit. Since reviving the daily White House briefing Mr. Trump and his coronavirus updates have attracted an average audience of 8.5 million on cable news, roughly the viewership of the season finale of ‘The Bachelor.’ Numbers are continuing to rise…”

It went on from there but, well, you get the idea.

Aside from misunderstanding the actual point of Grynbaum’s piece – yes, these briefings do well in terms of ratings but is it responsible to carry them – there’s something deeply wrong with how Trump both prioritizes the importance of ratings and what they actually mean.

Start with Trump clearly seeing the ratings for his briefings as a mark of some sort of success he has achieved.

This is not a new thing for Trump. As a reality TV star – and a cable TV obsessive – long before he began running for president, ratings have always been the thing he has latched onto as an objective measure of success. If it rates, it is good. Period.

A scroll through his Twitter feed reveals his longtime ratings obsessions. Using the “search” function at the amazing Trump Twitter Archive reveals 341 occurrences of the word “ratings” in Trump’s tweets.

His first ratings tweet came May 25, 2010, when Trump typed: “The ratings for the Celebrity Apprentice were fantastic and everyone had a great time. It was a terrific season – congrats to everyone!”

And practically every week he has commented at least once on ratings – either low or high – for some TV network. And in a May 2019 tweet he even took credit for high ratings; “Also, congratulations to @OANN on the great job you are doing and the big ratings jump (‘thank you President Trump’)!,” he tweeted.

So, yes, Trump has always cared about ratings. But to focus on them now as the country and the world battle a pandemic that experts are saying could lead to the deaths of between 100,000 and 200,000 Americans? It’s beyond unseemly.

Which leads to the even more troubling character traits Trump’s ratings tweets reveal.

In Trump’s mind, the reason that people are watching the briefings is because of him. Not because they are scared, nervous and trying to gather as much information as they can to make decisions to help their families and themselves. Which is, of course, why people are watching.

He doesn’t understand that. Because for him, it’s always, always, always about him. Asked about his ratings tweets during Sunday’s coronavirus daily briefing, here’s how Trump responded (bolding is mine):

“Well, I’ve read that CNN doesn’t want to cover them. I’ve read that – except they can’t help them because their ratings are so high. You know, if the ratings were low, they wouldn’t be here. This man wouldn’t be here. In 100 years you could bet your life that he would never be here with CNN and all their cameras….because we help their ratings. We help – we lift up their ratings because their ratings are very low. … But I think the American public ultimately they should be the decider, it’s like if they don’t want to watch, they shouldn’t watch.”

“We” means “me” for Trump. The narcissism there – whether you like Trump or hate him – literally smacks you in the face.

To be so focused on yourself when so many are struggling for their lives and their livelihoods is hard to take. But this is who Trump is. And he’s not changing. Ever.