Trump overexposed himself long ago — and has no new tricks to offer
The once-careful decorum of presidential news conferences is gone — shattered into a thousand tiny pieces as the president and the press interrupt, talk over, insult and ignore each other.
It is a mesmerizing show to watch. And it’s the predictable result of two colliding fault lines: Donald Trump’s decades of media overexposure and the emergence of a young crop of White House correspondents born into — and unintimidated by — that same environment of sensory overload.
For them, Trump doesn’t embody the majesty and mystery of his office. He’s just another guy on social media, like 2,000 of their closest friends. He’s a reality-show celebrity, sure — but in a modern world where everyone gets 15 minutes of fame. And he’s the guy who, for years, went on shock-jock Howard Stern’s radio show to rollick through anything and everything in his personal life.
Among the most forceful new members of the White House Press Corps are CNN’s Jeremy Diamond and Kaitlin Collins, both 28. They were in middle school when Trump’s TV show, “The Apprentice,” debuted in 2004. For PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor, age 32, the real estate mogul’s show was, if anything, background noise as she prepped for the SAT.
Studies indicate “The Apprentice” left a strong impression on some older voters, who kept that larger-than-life image of Trump in mind when they cast ballots for him in 2016. But younger people grew up on “unscripted” reality TV and know it’s about as real as a mirage. The tightly choreographed board-room scenes of Trump triumphant may have dazzled their parents, but the kids — raised on a steady diet of faux reality on MTV, VH1 and more — simply rolled their eyes and played along with the pretend.
Just one month after “The Apprentice” started its run on NBC, Facebook debuted, and the era of social media began. Young users like Diamond, Collins and Alcindor were early adopters, moving from Facebook to Twitter (2006), then over to Instagram (2010). Researchers label people now in their late 20s and early 30s as “social media natives” because it’s a language they grew up speaking. Trump’s social media fluency may impress older voters, but not a generation that honestly can’t remember a world without it.
That same generation is often criticized for living their private lives publicly, posting every embarrassing moment — a habit, they’re told, that could haunt them later. But they can’t begin to compete with Trump’s Howard Stern radio time — 15 hours over several years, spent discussing in stark terms his various wives, their detailed prenups, and the models he dated in between.
All of this leads to a special case of “familiarity breeds contempt” among younger people regarding the president, perhaps especially among those in the White House press corps. Reality TV and social media overexposure can “flatten” a person — and to younger generations, these are now very humdrum, banal forms of communication, making everyone involved actually seem less exceptional.
For Trump, that means the invisible barrier which normally exists between a president and the press corps has disappeared. And the more he makes himself available to the media, the worse it gets, as we’re seeing with his daily coronavirus news conferences. Too often he doesn’t seem “presidential” but, instead, displays the same personality ticks and flaws he has exhibited over many years — and what used to be entertaining is now mostly frustrating for reporters. The news-conference Trump is just like the Trump on Twitter, barking in all capital letters … and just like the Trump on reality TV shouting, “You’re fired!”
Younger press corps members literally grew up watching that guy, out there in the media bloodstream, overexposed every step of the way, with his extreme hunger for media attention.
It’s no wonder they treat him like someone they know all too well.
At least for time being, Trump seems to have gotten the message — he’s dialed back on his time at the news conferences, and didn’t hold one at all Saturday.
But that shift — assuming it lasts — probably comes years too late.
Joe Ferullo is an award-winning media executive, producer and journalist and former executive vice president of programming for CBS Television Distribution. He was a news executive for NBC, a writer-producer for “Dateline NBC,” and worked for ABC News. Follow him on Twitter @ironworker1.
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