We helped create a pass-the-popcorn president. Time for a healthier diet

We helped create a pass-the-popcorn president. Time for a healthier diet

“Human nature being what it is, any outstanding actor on the stage of public affairs – and especially a holder of high office – cannot remain indefinitely at the centre of controversy. The public must eventually lose interest in him and his cause.”

So said the legendary New York attorney Roy Cohn about Republican senator Joseph McCarthy, a red-baiting demagogue who for years held the American media spellbound but who eventually alienated the American people. But Cohn’s words have not yet turned out to be prophetic in regard to his one-time New York protégé Donald Trump, who continues to hold so many in his thrall.

Would a re-elected Donald Trump create more eye-catching outtakes than Joe Biden?Credit: AP

In the three-ringed circus that is modern-day American politics, Trump remains the ringmaster: the mesmerising focus not just of the MAGA faithful but the global media as well. His four separate arraignments in New York, Miami, Washington and Atlanta became a blockbuster summer franchise, with a new premiere seemingly every other week.

Last weekend he fixated the news cycle once again, with a characteristically chaotic appearance on Meet the Press, a Sunday morning talkshow which needed to make a splash as it rolled out a new anchor, Kristen Welker. While raising his adversary’s “cognitive impairment”, Trump suggested Joe Biden would lead America into World War II. The perverse irony was lost on no one, from ratings-chasing TV execs to news websites looking for clickbait.

Mea culpa. Even though I have been weening myself off Trump – for five years I covered him for the BBC – it is hard to go cold turkey. Here I am writing about him again. But all of us in the media probably need to try harder to kick the habit. At the very least, we should aim to avoid repeating the mistakes of 2016 when, as an industry, we helped facilitate his rise.


One trap that we are already falling into is the journalistic compulsion to balance negative coverage of Trump with equally negative coverage of Biden, as if there needs to be a parity of negativity. Inevitably, then, we keep returning to the issue of the president’s age and mental state, a legitimate area of inquiry for sure. But the problem is that Biden’s advancing years end up receiving a laser-like focus whereas there is more of a strobe effect when it comes to Trump’s 91 separate felony charges.

This is precisely what happened in 2016 with Hillary Clinton’s email “scandal”. To demonstrate our impartiality, and to offset coverage of Trump’s myriad scandals, we kept on returning to her emails. When researchers crunched the numbers, they found that the email scandal received more sentences of coverage than all of Trump’s misconduct combined.