What the left, right and the media need to do to avoid getting Trumped
by Tony Manolatos and Bob Nelson
The news media scored a rare high-profile win when the Washington Post broke news that led to the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Aside from that victory, the media has suffered almost as much as Trump has the past few weeks.
Reporters lurch as quickly as Trump tweets. Instead of examining how much Russia interfered with the presidential election, the media spends most of its time chasing the nonsense of the day and defending itself from Trump’s attacks.
It’s like watching eight-year-olds play soccer: the ball goes into a corner and 22 kids go after it. It flies to another corner and the mob follows. No one gives a thought to strategy or defense. The ball — not the players — is in control.
These are troubling times and while it is easy to rip the media and the steady stream of idiocy coming from the White House, the truth is most of us — including the right and the left — need to make smarter decisions. Trump will fully unravel, as many conservatives are now predicting. But if corrective steps are not taken now, our deeply divided nation won’t mellow much, if at all, when Trump exits.
Trump lies, wants you to believe the media lies
Trump lies at least once a day. His top aides aren’t much better. Just in the last few weeks they have given us #AlternativeFacts, the #BowlingGreenMassacre and other viral gems. Most chilling was Flynn’s resignation. It turns out Trump’s national security advisor did talk to Russia about lifting U.S. sanctions levied by Obama for its alleged tampering with the presidential election. The story gave the media a focal point, and while journalists work to shine more light on this scandal they need to be extra cautious. Any missteps would provide Trump with ammunition he would use in his media smear campaign.
Unless the media changes its strategy on covering Trump, his bizarre rants and misdeeds will accomplish the reality distortion that chief strategist Steve Bannon wants. While the media narrative has mostly swung between Trump-directed topics of the hour — which you can expect to increase in hopes of moving newsrooms off the Russian story — the White House, its media allies and Congressional sycophants maintain a frightening long-term narrative that the mainstream media lies and cannot be trusted. To them, it is all about the lying evil media who spread fake news — so pay no attention to the dangerous man behind the curtain.
Other narratives stand out in a sea of strange storylines. The Super Bowl did not just confirm Tom Brady’s greatness; the commercial breaks told us that household brands like Anheuser-Busch are putting distance between themselves and the Tweeter In Chief.
Meanwhile, the fire on the left continues to grow. Some conservatives are trying to convince themselves the anger is actually helping the right by turning off the center. Maybe that helps them sleep at night.
On the right nothing seems right. Just how toxic is Trump? How many more unforced errors are ahead? How many more Nordstrom-like attacks on legitimate businesses are going to surface? Nearly all Congressional Republicans appear to be Trump enablers or co-conspirators. Their silence today, particularly on the Russian hurricane coursing through Washington, could be their political demise tomorrow. How silent would they have been if Obama’s presidency started half as badly as Trump’s? What does it imply for Republicans seeking office next year?
Will GOP voters remain sanguine that 80 years of Russian treachery, espionage and murder are being ignored by Trump because he feels a kinship with former KGB chief spy Vladimir Putin? Will veterans and active duty military personnel continue to accept Trump’s false characterization that our military is devastated? Will suburban Republican and Independent moms forgive Republicans for shutting down clinics for women seeking birth control pills, IUDs and mammograms?
Many Republican officeholders will ultimately let campaign polls be their guide. At least one recent poll shows most Republicans are standing by their man despite all of Trump’s troubles. Democrats, meanwhile, think he is the Devil.
How to avoid getting Trumped
We don’t think Trump’s presidency is going to end well but the last chapter will hardly be a delightful time for most of us if we don’t make some changes now.
The right can recover quickly and perhaps will by tossing Trump aside and rallying around sensible Republicans, if any have the moxie to step forward against a sitting GOP president who takes pride in bullying federal judges, senators, corporations, reporters and others. Who are the GOP leaders that could and would take on fanatical Trump loyalists to help guide the party back to the American and international mainstream?
The media needs to make changes now to emerge as a bright light Americans can trust. It has to be smarter if it wants to shake the fake news label.
Were we managing a newsroom we would convince our boss to spend big on a marketing campaign with real people saying really nice things about why they trust the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, etc. Get those spots into heavy rotation a.s.a.p. — online, print, radio and TV. Keep bringing in new faces but do not change the message.
We would demand our reporters stop gawking at the wreckage at the White House, and we would put an end to the sensationalism. It’s not needed. Get out of the way. These stories write themselves.
We would assign a small team of reporters to chase the nonsense of the day and put the majority of the staff, including our stars, on stories that take time to tell but will have the most impact, including the Russian intervention, the deadly Navy SEAL operation in Yemen, Bannon’s role and influence, and the international implications for America from real enemies in North Korea, Iran and elsewhere.
The left, meanwhile, needs to practice smart resistance. It needs to take the long view and rebuild its big tent, especially among working class Americans, if it wants to be effective at winning elections and shaping policy.
There is tremendous energy on the left and little of it is manufactured. Direct these folks without discouraging them. Teach them how to be effective. Marginalize the crazies. Don’t worry about finding a presidential candidate. Resist blanket resistance and instead focus on singular goals like “Stop the Muslim Ban!”
America will emerge from Trump’s horror show and the goal is for her to be stronger because of it. We have tremendous faith in our resilient country. If Trump does not drag us into a war we don’t see anything we cannot overcome relatively quickly. We have certainly lived through worse. Let’s not forget the millions of young men we’ve lost on battlefields. America survived the Civil War, Vietnam and other historical conflicts. We will survive Trump.
That’s not to downplay our situation. These trying times are going to get worse. If we’re smarter in our approach to Trump it will be easier to repair the damage and make America great again.
Tony Manolatos is a news media strategist and Bob Nelson is a campaign strategist. The two are partners in Manolatos Nelson Murphy Advertising & Public Relations in San Diego.