President Donald Trump has been attacking the mainstream media, particularly the “failing” New York Times and “fake news” CNN, since the early days of the 2016 election cycle, and those attacks have persisted into his presidency.
Ironically, Trump’s vilification of the press has helped boost subscriptions and ratings for the outlets he directly denounces.
On Feb. 2, New York Times CEO Mark Thompson told CNBC that the Times currently has 3 million subscribers, the most in the newspaper’s history.
Fox News’, MSNBC’s and CNN’s total daily audiences in January were up 30 percent, 7 percent and 5 percent, respectively, from the same time period last year, according to the New York Times.
Despite losing Megyn Kelly — who feuded with Trump after a charged debate exchange — to NBC, Fox News maintained its No. 1 status among cable news networks for the 15th straight year.
On Dec. 14, 2016, Vanity Fair published a scathing review of the Trump Grill in Trump Tower, saying it “could be the worst restaurant in America.” On Dec. 15, Trump tweeted about the publication’s “really poor numbers.”
Has anyone looked at the really poor numbers of @VanityFair Magazine. Way down, big trouble, dead! Graydon Carter, no talent, will be out!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 15, 2016
Vanity Fair: way up, big success, alive! Subscribe today! https://t.co/OR81gIv44s
— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) December 15, 2016
Eddie Scarry, the Washington Examiner’s media reporter, recently published his own analysis of Trump’s positive effect on the wallets of mainstream outlets. He believes that as much as Trump rails against the press, he knows he needs them to succeed.
“I believe that he really likes attention in general from the press … and I think there are also many individual journalists he likes on a personal level,” Scarry told MediaFile. “Even though there is this obvious hostile relationship, it’s also true that he enjoys the attention and he gets benefits from having that hostile relationship.”
Scarry doesn’t think Trump has a vendetta against any particular outlet, and just retaliates against perceived slights as they occur.
“He doesn’t really speak to discredit the same place,” he said. “He does it on an issue basis. When he’s trying to discredit, it’s usually the media in general. Often times when he talks about fake news, that’s more general about the media.”
Trump has been using the phrase “fake news” to describe legitimate news outlets whenever one publishes something in conflict with his agenda, and he has even told his supporters that any negative polling data from these outlets should be considered fake news.
Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 6, 2017
Maria Sciullo, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s media reporter, has seen the effects of this firsthand. She told MediaFile that during a recent trip to a salon, her hairdresser cited the Washington Post as an example of a fake news outlet.
“I just feel that we need, as journalists, to understand how quickly our status has deteriorated and try to fight the good fight in an increasingly antagonistic environment,” she said.
Sciullo cited BuzzFeed as an example of a news company that took a Trump lemon and made lemonade. Trump called it a “failing pile of garbage” after the site published the now-infamous unverified dossier, so BuzzFeed started selling “failing pile of garbage” shirts, made $25,000 and donated it all to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“It’s a wonderful thing that people are acknowledging that traditional news sources are alive and not going away,” Sciullo said.
Scarry is skeptical of this Trump bump happening every time he goes after a media outlet. He likened it to the White House Correspondents Dinner, saying that Barack Obama’s first few dinners were high-energy affairs, but his last few lost their initial luster.
“Over the course of four years, the newness of him will wear off,” he said. “I think we might see a plateauing of subscriptions and cable news ratings.”
Sciullo isn’t willing to make any predictions regarding Trump anymore.
“If you had asked me a year ago if the public was really going to continue to eat up anything Donald Trump said or did on television, I would have said there’s no way that interest could be be sustained,” she said. “I vastly overestimated the American public.”
The media certainly should not count on this Trump effect continuing throughout his presidency, but if the reward for pushing him on his policies is higher ratings or more subscriptions, maybe it will take some of the sting out of all that Twitter venom.