Donald Trump isn’t wrong.
When he talked to Scott Pelley on “60 Minutes” Sunday night, he told Pelley “some of the media is among the worst people I’ve ever met … A terrible group of people.”
Let’s grant that it might have been nice he’d used the word “are” instead of “is” – because “media,” after all, is the plural form of the word “medium” – but as someone who has spent more than four and a half decades in close proximity to those who define themselves as “media,” I’d have to admit that some of the worst people I’ve ever met in my life too have been in their number.
I’d immediately qualify that admission, though, by noting that they are in a vast minority in their profession and that some of the best people I’ve ever known in my life have been journalists (a very different subject than “media,” I’d maintain to my dying day.”)
If Trump were to lump Fox News’ Megyn Kelly into that “worst” category merely on the strength of her Fox News debate question about his habit of insulting women, I’d argue that, at that moment, she wasn’t merely doing important journalistic work; she was doing it exceedingly well. She was asking a presidential candidate about a huge contention that sexism is one of his more notable vulnerabilities.
I couldn’t say the same thing about Scott Pelley on “60 minutes” which, at the beginning of its 48th season, gave us fascinating studies in TV journalism in our time.
The two main interviews on the show were perfectly instructive: Charlie Rose with Vladimir Putin was a great example of old style journalistic grandeur; Pelley with Trump was a flop in its attempt to mimic the new style of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, men who come from outside journalism but are capable in their showbiz parody of it, of doing weirdly useful journalistic work.
When, for instance, Trump was just on with Colbert, the host told him he was setting up a big fat “meatball” for him in a question about Obama’s birth, only to be told by Trump that he prefers not to do his birther dance on TV these days. (Translation: It’s more trouble than it’s worth. A guy can lose votes that way.)
I’m now among those – including Bill Maher and Frank Rich in New York Magazine – who find Trump’s insistence on turning presidential politics into a TV reality show awfully interesting. It is fascinating to watch him expose both old-style politicking and old-style journalism and underline their ways of B.S. in the world.
For most of the interview with Trump, both Pelley’s expression and his insistence on interrupting Trump’s rosy predictions of economic Valhalla in a Trump administration looked and sounded like a father listening to the plans of a wayward and hopelessly unrealistic teenage son – which was a perfect example of the smugness Trump’s performance art hopes to expose.
In New York Magazine, Rich rather brilliantly – if not entirely accurately, I think – compared what Trump is doing to what fictional billionaire Guy Grand so sadistically does in Terry Southern’s diabolical novel “The Magic Christian.”
To see Trump’s candidacy as inspired and useful satire – a “reality show” that’s unreal in itself but indicative of places reality might be – is to see how clueless conventional journalists such as Pelley are.
Facial expressions of mockery and disbelief that are really meant for other journalists don’t cut it. “The Daily Show” discovered that when they sent wiseacre mock-“reporters” out to interview lunatics among the populace who see, say, holy imagery in egg yolks.
What is happening among the conservative minority of Republican voters is something happening all over: a conviction that wall-to-wall B.S. in both conventional politics AND “media” yammering has made reality show belligerence acceptable as a parody of politics, just as it has become successful as show business.
That is not only horrifying but it’s disingenuous, too. When, for instance, Trump told Pelley that lying was anathema to him, an obvious question might have been about all the lying and fakery that went into the reality show Trump had.
But Rich and Maher have a point about Trump: His “shoot-from-the-lip” reality show improv has exposed a ton of B.S. What other candidate has ever called out a politician (Hillary Clinton) for taking his money and then showing up, as virtually commanded, at a family wedding of the donor?
Out here among the couch potatoes, we’ve long known stuff like that was going on but we never heard a billionaire candidate tell us before.
In contrast to Pelley’s exasperated Dad expression was Jake Tapper’s earnest expression during Ben Carson’s fascinating refusal on CNN to roll back his comments about Islam and the presidency and how he did not believe a Muslim should be president. When Tapper spent five minutes hammering away at Carson on the subject, a Carson functionary finally said “that’s it” and removed his man from the ring, lest he end up with a big fat Katie Couric/Sarah Palin black eye.
You have to give these non-pro candidates some props. How often does anyone outside of Bill Maher actually want to quote the contents of the Quran in a context of world problems?
In contrast to Pelley so badly flunking the Trump test, there was Charlie Rose majestically upholding the ancient standard of TV news interviewing with a world leader who’s not a Reality Show impersonation of toughness but one of the most powerful and chilling leaders in the very real world.
We saw a Putin we’ve never really seen before – slick and, for that very reason, formidable. Rose showed us he had a sense of humor and the result of it was that no one in the world could possibly be reassured. His “sense of humor” reminded me a little of a “wisecrack” once attributed to Nazi slaughterer Herman Goering: “Smile,” said an American photographer trying to get the expression he wanted “in America they think you eat children for breakfast.” “How misunderstood I am,” replied Goering. “I don’t eat breakfast.”
Pelley’s mocking smiles at Trump showed us a fellow who was desperately trying to get the joke – and failing.
Brian Williams’ return last week to MSNBC couldn’t have come at a better time. Now there’s a fellow, I think, who will “get” Trump.