Jack Shafer: “Trump’s New Media Outlet Will Go the Way of His Steaks and Mattresses”

From a Jack Shafer Fourth Estate column on politico.com headlined “Trump’s New Media Outlet Will Go the Way of His Steaks and Mattresses”:

Nobody can doubt the power of former President Donald Trump to draw and keep an audience. Before Twitter permanently suspended him in January, he could boast 88.7 million followers. At least 35.4 million subscribed to his Facebook account prior to his defenestration there. His many books clotted the New York Times bestseller list, and even after his November defeat, he can still reliably fill basketball arenas and state fairground exhibition halls. Wherever Trump has gone, his supporters have flocked to partake of his strange charisma.

But is their allegiance so pure and enduring that they’ll follow him to a new company— a business that promises a social media outlet to take on Twitter (called Truth Social), “non-woke” streaming video news and entertainment to compete with CNN and Disney, podcasts, and cloud software and services to go up against Microsoft, Google and Amazon? A public statement announcing the merger of the newly formed Trump Media & Technology Group, of which Trump is chair, and a speculative “blank-check” company named Digital World Acquisition Corp. promises that TMTG will enter all these media spaces to “fight back against the ‘Big Tech’ companies of Silicon Valley, which have used their unilateral power to silence opposing voices in America.”

At least that’s Trump’s pipe dream. There’s nothing new about the comic grandiosity of TMTG’s ambitions….It only conforms with Trump’s long-held belief that “truthful hyperbole” is the key to selling real estate — or any of the crap products (steaks, mattresses, water, men’s wear, vodka, perfume, eyeglasses, coffee) Trump has hawked to resistant customers. Trump is a moderately successful businessman when he sticks to his specialties — real estate and hotels. But all those overpriced, shoddy namesake products failed in the marketplace because Trump didn’t know how to compete with people who really understood those businesses. We can expect Truth Social and the other world-beater enterprises TMTG proposes to likewise be sucked into the void because Trump 1) has no clue about how to run media or tech properties and 2) lacks sufficient appeal.

Trump has been hankering for a fancy place-setting at the media table for some time. In 2016, he and his son-in-law Jared Kushner were planning to start a Fox News competitor when they assumed his presidential bid was toast. In November 2020, he was said to again be contemplating a new news network to battle Fox or buy an existing one. This past February, he reportedly was negotiating to take a 40 percent interest in the Parler social media site in exchange for posting exclusively on it. None of these proposals reached liftoff. Then came the disaster of the Trump blog, which died earlier this year after just 29 days, finding a permanent resting place in the Trump cemetery interred alongside his steaks, coffee pods, neckwear and vodka bottles.

Trump’s new media start-up will soon teach him the public views him more as a Glenn Beck than it does an Oprah Winfrey. Beck, who proved he could hold millions of viewers captive with just palaver and a chalkboard on both CNN and Fox News a decade ago, started his own media company in 2011. He hasn’t exactly failed. He still broadcasts. But his ambitions outran his appeal, requiring steady layoffs and entrenchment. America still liked Beck some, but not enough to build a whole network around. Even for people who liked him, Beck was like Tabasco. Stimulating, perhaps in small doses, but gag-producing by the swig. Sort of like Trump.

Winfrey, on the other hand, never played to a single political niche. She appealed to the widest segments of the population with her kindness and her chameleon-esque quality of reflecting back at her audience their best qualities. When it came time for her to establish her eponymous network, she had no trouble sustaining it because she’s a safe and reassuring performer and not the scare-merchant Beck plays on TV. People can and have built whole worlds around Winfrey, and she’s a billionaire now thanks to those talents.

Americans still like Trump some. After all, he got 74 million votes. But does America like Trump enough to embrace a whole new media universe based on him, or is he more like Beck — best when taken in smaller portions as part of a larger meal? Will enough people go through the motions of signing up for a new social media app just to taste Trump’s insights? His blog’s failure to capture scant attention tells you two things: The Trump audience gets its minimum daily requirements of Trump coverage from the regular media, and nothing he created on his blog started a queue for more of the same, let alone a stampede. Trump succeeded on Twitter in part because he was unique, but mostly because Twitter already had convened an audience for him to entertain. There’s no evidence he can convene such an audience all by himself.

What’s more, are we really expected to believe a media and tech start-up with the pocket-change of $293 million in the kitty and overseen by a 75-year-old man can outduel Fox, CNN, Disney and Microsoft? According to this Reuters report, the financier who steered the merger that created TMTG has an uninspiring track record when it comes to making big deals….When Trump dies, the Trump cachet will go with him to his cemetery. Does anybody really want to make a long-term investment in a company so identified with one person, who isn’t getting any younger?

Obviously, Trump will attract some followers. Equally obviously, he’ll make some news pop. But it’s not like Trump possesses some exclusive insights that will make him the unavoidable Baby Yoda of 2022, when Truth Social is scheduled to start. Ben Shapiro is out there vending the same wares, as are Dan Bongino, Tucker Carlson and the whole right-wing mediasphere….

It’s too early in TMTG’s story to call the company a grift, even if, as the Washington Post puts it, TMTG appears to be little more than “a vaguely defined company headquartered at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s club in Palm Beach.” Based on TMTG’s public statement, there’s no clue the company has a product ready to sell, unique technology or even name recognition to trade on….That Trump can only start something so small to take on businesses that are so large indicates that his reputation for business failure has finally caught up to him. Billionaires and other truly moneyed folk must not have returned Trump’s calls. It’s an old story: Eventually, every grifter runs out of people to grift.


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