This is news? Today’s New York Times headlines: "Hillary Clinton to Portray Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Positions as Dangerous." Did they think maybe she was going to offer praise for Mr Trump and his foreign policy positions? Well, the paper comes out every day, and maybe they couldn’t find anything else to write about Mrs Clinton that fit their "narrative." But the rise of the cult of the narrative in today’s news business also means a decline in the business of actual news. It means that the news is already known before it comes out and, to that extent, is becoming something that those who might otherwise be readers, watchers or listeners to the media can easily dispense with. Certainly I can. I gave up on TV news a long time ago and now only feel obliged by the demands of my job to read the papers every day.
As I do, however, I always send up a silent prayer of thanks as I wearily click through them online each morning every time I see a headline that tells me: here is another article I don’t have to read, since there is sure to be no real news in it but just a pushing forward of the already familiar narrative. You may have noticed as I have that this is happening more and more often lately, now that the media are desperately trying to take back the narrative that Donald Trump has — rather newsworthily, you might have thought — taken from them. I’d like to suggest to The New York Times and to Hillary Clinton, for that matter that that usurpation of the narrative privilege is the real danger they fear from Mr Trump. And that their fear and loathing of him is a big part of the reason for his unexpected popularity.
Yesterday, for instance, I made a note of the headlines just from that day’s Times and The Washington Post, that promised this kind of relief from further reading by their total predictability, beginning with what has to be the Times’s first prize winner: "Stephen Hawking Calls Donald Trump a ‘Demagogue’." I suppose that that kind of appeal to authority — and what an authority! — is self-justifying in the media’s view because they have come to take their own authority on partisan subjects for granted. That’s why they keep saying the same things over and over again. They just can’t believe that they’re not believed.
But they also can’t imagine that there is any news value to such pronouncements. No more is there to those like the following:
"Clinton launching national security case against Trump in California speech."
"Trump, 800-Pound Media Gorilla, Pounds His Chest at Reporters."
"Donald Trump Lashes Out at Media While Detailing Gifts to Veterans."
"Media scrutiny over charitable donations to veterans riles up Trump."
That last one comes with a video headed: "Trump slams ‘political press’ at news conference." Now there’s a double surprise. Breaking news: the press is political and Trump doesn’t like it. Who knew? Maybe it’s all just a part of "Trump’s tragic, rolling bluster" — the headline to one of several op eds I also didn’t need to read — that one by Eugene Robinson of the Post. Mr Robinson himself tells us not to bother to read his piece in its opening sentence: "Donald Trump looked like a fool and a fraud on Sunday. But what else is new?" Apparently nothing at all is new that has to do with Donald Trump anywhere in these two self-described news papers, and yet they keep pretending that the old news is news. It’s a great example of how, in their enthusiasm for political advocacy, the media have forgotten that they’re supposed to be in the news business.
On the same page, David Ignatius offers to tell us why "President Trump would hand the world to China." That one sounds so improbable that it seems almost worth reading, but. . . Nah. It is no more likely to contain anything new than Kathleen Parker’s adjacent piece headed "America is under relentless attack — from within." Love that suspenseful dash, Kathleen! But where else would "America" be under attack from? And by? Guess whom. Meanwhile, the Post’s anonymous editorialists have this to offer: "Donald Trump, bully in chief." That might have been something worth reading if it weren’t appearing in the context of literally thousands of similar articles everywhere you look in the media. Remind me again: who is it that is supposed to be the bully?
I don’t know. I may be missing something by skipping all these articles. The thought idly occurs to me as I turn the page on: "Former Trump University Workers Call the School a ‘Lie’ and a ‘Scheme’ in Testimony." Hm. I wonder if it was a lie — or if "scheme" is universally understood as pejorative? But then, I think, so what else is news? The word "lie" has been thrown around so much in recent months that it has lost all meaning — and, with it, all conviction. All I know for sure is that, if there were anyone, anywhere who was involved with Trump University and who had a good word to say for it or him, that would not have rated a headline in The New York Times. I can’t be the only one who has noticed this either, which prompts the further speculation that the media’s passionate advocacy contra Trump may just be the very thing that is driving voters to him in such alarming numbers. The media have sown the narrative wind and are reaping the narrative whirlwind.