I blame Donald Trump for turning the presidency into a vapid, glitzy prime-time soap opera like “Dallas” or “Dynasty” of the 1980s.
I have written at length about how we now have a president who is as shady and self-serving a character as J.R. Ewing was on “Dallas,” and how much of the nation is now dangerously locked in an endless cycle of serialized drama and silliness instead of the conversation of democracy.
Rather than any real discussion about a vision for the country or national narrative that might inspire us, we have endless accounts of who’s at war with Jared and Ivanka, who paid off a porn star on behalf of the president and how will the president possibly cope without one of his most trusted advisers, the 29-year-old Hope Hicks who resigned this week as White House director of communications.
Most of that is on Trump. I think it’s fair to call him a debased character just on the basis of what he said on the “Access Hollywood” tape about sexually assaulting women. He has dragged the presidency so far into the mud with his nasty, often ignorant tweets and support of racist and far-right elements that he makes Richard Nixon seem like a paragon of presidential propriety and character.
But as culpable as Trump is for the confused and sorry state of our civic conversation these days, we in the media are also to blame — especially when we provide a national platform to characters like Anthony Scaramucci as CNN and Bloomberg did Thursday.
Yes, shame on us, too.
I came to this conclusion Thursday watching Scaramucci on CNN’s morning show, “New Day.”
“The morale is terrible,” Scaramucci said, playing the role of an expert on all things backstage at the White House. “The reason why the morale is terrible is that the rule by fear and intimidation does not work in a civilian environment,"
Later in the day, I saw him quoted in Bloomberg News calling White House chief of staff John Kelly, a former general in the Marines, “General Jackass.”
“Does the president want to lose everyone because of General Jackass?” he said.
Bloomberg got the better quote — “better” defined at this level of cable “news” as being more outrageous, sensational and likely to generate social media chatter.
But at what cost to the national conversation? One of the primary roles of the media is to help shape that conversation, to help set parameters for what we consider important and how we discuss it.
And the very act of giving Scaramucci a platform on CNN or Bloomberg is to treat him as an expert and suggest he has something important to say — something worth the audience’s time to hear.
Bringing him on sinks the conversation to the level of locker-room name calling.
There’s plenty to criticize about Kelly’s work in the Trump White House. But there is a more intelligent and responsible way to discuss his performance.
Yes, it was the day after Hicks resigned and, yes, Scaramucci had been head of White House communications, too.
But he lasted only 11 days in that role, saying crazy stuff and blowing kisses from the podium. And his tenure was nothing but more debasement for the institution of the White House until a profanity-laden tirade got him fired. He was an absolute disgrace, and a more responsible mainstream media would have sent that message by marginalizing him.
But, no, the media of today doesn’t seem to care how compromised you are. Remember Corey Lewandowski as a contributor on CNN? There was even talk of Sean Spicer getting a TV news job until hiring executives saw the trial balloons they were launching get instantly blown up.
Hicks is probably sorting through cable TV job offers right now, despite her reported admission to members of a House panel this week that she sometimes told “white lies” in her White House job. Who needs credibility, anyway?
I do not complain about the endless time spent on covering the soap-opera aspects of the Trump administration. It is the presidency, after all.
But let’s do it with some discernment and social responsibility when it comes to the voices we include and the choices we make in how they are presented and covered.