‘They are taking the bait’: Columnist Michael Wolff on why the media blew it on Trump
At a time of media soul searching over the rise of Donald Trump, longtime media watcher and columnist Michael Wolff is perhaps the most unsparing in his assessment.
“Everything,” he said on this week’s episode of the Digiday Podcast when asked what the media got wrong about Trump. “Literally everything. I can’t think of another instance in which the media was so off in its predictions, evaluations and the ways in which it hedged its bets. Every person and every outlet, the fundamental assumption was not only was Donald Trump unfit to be president but that he would never be president. If the American people didn’t stop him from being president, the media would stop him with their opprobrium and their collective decision he couldn’t be.”
Below, in his own words, edited slightly for clarity, are highlights from the conversation with Wolff, who profiled Donald Trump in June and last week published the first interview with top Trump advisor Steve Bannon.
Trump masterfully plays the media
“It’s extraordinary. In effect, the Trump issue was the media itself. In these huge rallies, not only signaling out reporters but chants that CNN sucks. That’s what he ran against. The media creates Donald Trump and then he turns and runs against it. He catches them unaware and does the thing they said he could never do, which is win.
“So far, the media reaction has been complete defensiveness. The New York Times has said it’s going to re-evaluate or some baloney, but I don’t think anyone is doing that. My impression is they’re hunkering down and maintaining this idea that Trump is a threat. One of the things is they are taking the bait. He tweets and they go crazy. In a more rational world, the response might be that he tweets so everybody let’s block him. What’s going on is he tweets and it dominates the news cycle, a castoff tweet or something that he may be doing precisely to dominate the news cycle.
“You had Trump the public figure as inviting conflict, a completely pugnacious personality, everywhere he went he was causing a kind of chaos. It’s clear what the guy most wants is to be liked. If not docile, he was certainly charming [in person], but even more the thing that came through is there was no inherent conflict here. It was about, I want you to like me. The resentments are not on the surface with Trump. What works for him is our resentment of him. It’s not his resentment of us so much as our resentment of him. The Trump people, it makes them stand up in cheer. Our anti-Trumpism makes the Trump people cheer his name.”
Trump is not a unique threat, at least at this point
“Undoubtedly he believes some of [his campaign statements] but doesn’t believe other parts. Is he different from any other politician? I’m not sure. There’s a whole developing vocabulary from the media side that he’s a threat. …read more