“Not only has the Trump obsession often drowned out bigger stories, it has forced us to see them through the distorting lens of the man himself.”

From a post on cjr.org by Jon Allsop and Pete Vernon headlined “How the press covered the last four years of Trump”:

The media’s response to the Trump presidency has been marked, perhaps above all, by an obsession with Trump. His ability to act as the press’s assignment editor—be it by design or accident of his erratic personality (and there are strong opinions on both sides of that debate)—remains undimmed.

Sure, the news cycle reacts with less intensity, these days, to his every tweet and insult, and it’s true that for all the attention that it lavishes on him, he routinely says and does things that would trigger a month of controversy under any other president, yet pass mostly without comment. For every outrage that got normalized, however, Trump served up a fresher, zanier controversy to chew on. (Remember the Putin summit? Remember Sharpiegate?) His nicknames continue to amuse reporters to death; when his moniker for Biden (“Sleepy Joe”) failed to land, many pundits sounded almost disappointed. The media’s (and, judging by sales figures, the public’s) appetite for insidery books—by Mary Trump, by John Bolton, by Michael Cohen—has held steady, even though the appalling anecdotes in each one were quickly lost to the wind. Ditto insidery news stories. . . .

Not only has the Trump obsession often drowned out bigger stories—crises like climate change, racism, immigration, anti-trans discrimination, inadequate healthcare, poverty, and gun violence, all of which predated Trump and will outlast him—it has forced us to see them, when we see them at all, through the distorting, flattening lens of the man himself. A not-insignificant portion of the punditocracy, in particular, seems to believe that America’s problems—the biggest ones, anyway—begin and end with Trump’s tenure in office. Many reporters seem to believe that, too, if less overtly. The truth, of course, is that the systemic problems that Trump came to personify were here before he arrived and will last long after he’s gone; he was simply their embodiment. Journalism’s failure to consistently grasp that difficult, fundamental fact means that laying the groundwork for a meaningful reckoning with these last four years may continue to be pushed off into the future.

Some journalists, of course, will undoubtedly have been awakened under Trump. Others never needed awakening. If Trump loses the election and leaves office in January, will these voices grab hold of the media conversation, insisting that we can’t go back to the complacency of business as usual? Or will a Joe Biden presidency—and its anticipated restoration of “norms” and “decency” and institutional weight—drain the news cycle of its present urgency, and usher in a new golden age of Washington schmoozing, and “girls’ nights,” and triviality?

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