Wednesday, December 2, 2015

How to deal with the Megaphone Man

Each election cycle you think it couldn't get any worse, and somehow it does.  Donald Trump is now toying with the idea of a $5 million appearance fee, or "ransom" as he calls it, to appear in the next CNN debate.  He said he would give the money to Wounded Warrior or some other veterans' organization in an attempt to downplay what sounds more like extortion.  Of course, the news media jumped all over it.

Donald Trump is the "megaphone guy" in George Saunders' The Brain-dead Megaphone.  He managed to shout over everyone else and end up controlling everyone's conversations during this election cycle.  As Saunders writes, "His main characteristic is his dominance.  He crowds the other voices out.  His rhetoric becomes the central rhetoric because of its unavoidability."

Saunders was referring to the re-shaping of the new media as the result of sensational trials like that of O.J. Simpson and sordid events like Monica Lewinsky's dress, which hogged up the news in the 90s.  These types of stories became fodder for 24/7 news networks like CNN and Fox News.  Ultimately, the Iraq War and all its repercussions came to dominate the news cycle in the 2000's, which Saunders mainly addresses in the opening essay of the book.

The author laments the dumbing-down of the news media, which has found a way "to wring thousands of hours from what could have been summarized in a couple of minutes."  That's certainly the case with Trump, who has harnessed the power of round-the-clock news, providing early morning tweets that serve as breakfast for the networks, and by mid-day has all the stations eating out of his hand.

At the moment, the news media are dissecting his comments for accuracy, particularly the comment he made of Muslim-Americans cheering 911 in the streets of Jersey City, which he claims he saw on television.  Chuck Todd has become a bit of a media hero for challenging Trump on these comments in a telephone interview on Meet the Press.  Fact of the matter, Trump is impervious to such challenges, because he always has something new to say that is even more audacious than what he said before, so the news networks can no sooner get to the bottom of one false claim before being bombarded with others.

In order to compete with the megaphone man, other candidates have to pick up a megaphone too, as Ted Cruz has done, shouting out that the shooter at the Planned Parenthood Clinic is a "transgendered leftist radical" and that the overwhelming majority of violent criminals are Democrats.  This leads the media to scramble for any proof of such absurd allegations.  PolitiFact decided that it was mostly false, but Ted succeeded in getting the media to focus on him for a change, which is what he was after.

We all like to think we are above these guys, but their outrageous comments are hard not to repeat at the water cooler and at lunch counters across the country, dominating our thoughts whether we want them to or not.  Of course, you get a few persons fiercely resolved to avoid Trump and Cruz all together, like John Oliver, who continues to present more important stories like the state of Mental Health in this country.  Not very good I would say, if one is to judge by the latest polls which have Trump and Cruz currently sharing the catbird seat.

It's not like either one of them has anything to say.  They just say it louder and therefore garner the most attention.  Is it really worth fact checking them, when it seems to have no effect on their poll numbers?  If Jeb Bush was smart he would have said no, he wouldn't vote for Trump if he were the Republican nominee because he is going to ruin this party.  Instead, Bush deferred to Trump, saying "anybody is better than Hillary."  No, Jeb, that is just plain stupid.

Maybe, the news media should opt for Gallagher's rubber dart guns to shoot at guests' foreheads, and a little flag that unfurls to read "stupid" when they say something totally absurd like Trump and Cruz so often do.  If the guy is going to come on your show and say the most outlandish things, you have to have an equally outlandish response.  I suppose a pale of water would work as well.

Obviously, reason doesn't work, because no matter how hard you try to point out the inaccuracy of their statements and the faultiness of their logic, they just shout you down as Donald Trump did Chuck Todd.  Of course, the other option is for CNN to call Trump on his bluff and say fine, we aren't going to invite you to the next debate.   We'll invite Chris or Huck back to be the eighth man.  Unfortunately, that probably won't happen.

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