I usually don’t post a new article so quickly after my last one, but Trump’s CNN Town Hall requires a timely response. This was an unnecessary ratings grab. There was no public interest served in such premature focus on Trump at this point in the campaign. And in any case it was an irresponsible way to cover Trump. You cannot obtain truthful information from Trump even in a deposition format, but at least there the damage is minimized. If you care about truth, you certainly don’t go out of your way to enable him to unleash his stream of explosive diarrhea onto the public.
Presenting Trump in a town hall format, with a cheering crowd of supporters to egg him on and a female foil to joust with, is not journalism. It is rather more like staging a reality show conflict or hawking side-show freaks at a circus.
Come one come all. See the Wild Man of Borneo as he rages and lashes about in his cage. But fear not. It is an educational experience that must not be missed!
Or another image that comes to mind is when royals might trot out a buffoon, a simpleton, or a sad, deformed cripple to prance about, spout gibberish, and pretend to be royalty as they laugh and sneer. The trouble is, in fiction such depictions are invariably followed by the throng of peasants laying low the elites, putting the buffoon in charge, and making those royals dance and prance for him.
Have we really not learned from the last two election cycles? Even today, hosts on MSNBC for example, are opining and handwringing about how to responsibly cover Trump. Even acknowledging their failure in the past, they still try to minimize and whitewash the extent of their past failure. Let’s be clear. In 2016 MSNBC helped get Trump elected. They covered every move he made, every word he spoke, and every comment anyone offered about him incessantly and obsessively. It was typical for them to give Trump hour after hour of uncensored airtime, only to pop in on a Hillary Clinton rally for 5 minutes before frantically returning to their Trump marathon.
MSNBC, you horribly miscalculated the effect of all your coverage and you were probably just greedy as well. Blame yourselves for helping to elevate Trump. But better yet, own your history and fix it this time around. The same goes to you, CNN.
How do you fix it? You don’t give Trump an open mic platform, period. Don’t livestream one rally, one interview by him or his surrogates, and don’t obsess on covering his every attention getting stunt. Ignore the screaming kid having a tantrum in aisle one. Do not echo and amplify Trumps rants and lies. Of course continue to report on him when it is newsworthy, but don’t serve as a megaphone for a man for whom even bad press is good press.
But won’t that silence empower him? Don’t you have to expose his insanity let people see for themselves how dangerous he is?
Of course, continue exposing Trump in a responsible journalistic manner. But here’s the thing. I recently published a book, Pandemic of Delusion, in which I talk about how people come to believe things. In a very condensed few words, our brains, our neural networks, simply don’t work the way one might hope. When our brains, all of our brains, are exposed to anything over and over we get more comfortable with it. It’s just brain physics. Repeated exposure does not normally have the effect of exposing inconsistencies or lies or bad behavior. Quite the contrary, repeated exposure makes our brains progressively more comfortable with whatever we are exposed to, however illogical it may be, until it seems perfectly normal, even desirable to us.
I know each and every one of you would like to think that is not the case. That we are much smarter than that, that others are smarter than that, that your audience is much smarter than that, and certainly that we ourselves are smarter than that. But it isn’t about how smart you are. It’s just plain brain physics over which we have little control.
Somehow in his ridiculous gut brain, Trump understands this. He repeats the same lies over and over and over because he knows that simple repeated exposure reliably works in a way that logic or facts or sound arguments do not.
You don’t protect people from infection by exposing them to germs. You quarantine the vector. Exposure may produce an immune response, but does not actually make our immune system any stronger. Rather exposure weakens our immune system, making us even more susceptible to repeated exposures.
It’s the same when our brains are exposed to misinformation over and over. The only way to win against Trump is to avoid repeated exposure to him. MSNBC, you may generate outrage by your incessant coverage, but you weaken our defenses with each exposure. You unintentionally acclimate us to a sickly state of mind, normalizing what you seek to denormalize.
Media, don’t serve as infectious vectors, sneezing out Trump pathogens daily. Don’t rationalize an underlying desire for ratings by telling yourselves you are serving the public interest. You are not. Talk about Trump and yes show Trump telling lies and behaving badly, but don’t expose your audience to him unfiltered.
CNN, you failed to safeguard truth and democracy. Protecting the public from Trump is not censorship. It is responsible journalism. Just stop spreading the disease.
Viewers, if your network persists in exposing you to Trump without the protection of careful controls, turn them off and save your brain from infection.