By Norman Solomon
The big banner headline across the top of the New York Times homepage as Tuesday got underway — “TRUMP’S TAXES SHOW CHRONIC LOSSES AND YEARS OF TAX AVOIDANCE” — might give the impression that Donald Trump is finally on the verge of political downfall. Don’t believe it for a moment.
The same kind of mistaken belief has led many to put undeserved trust in a corporate-media system. But the New York Times isn’t going to save us. Neither is the Washington Post, MSNBC, CNN or any of the other mass-media outlets, “liberal” or otherwise.
To a large extent, the corporate media — especially the TV networks that gave Trump billions of dollars’ worth of free airtime while raking in enormous ad revenues — made him president. The advertising-and-ratings-bedazzled head of the CBS network, Leslie Moonves, uttered an infamously emblematic comment eight months before the 2016 election, in the midst of a campaign that Trump dominated with TV coverage: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
Less well-known are other statements that Moonves also made while speaking to a Morgan Stanley conference in February 2016. “Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now?” And: “The money’s rolling in and this is fun.” And: “I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.” And: “Donald’s place in this election is a good thing.”
At the same time, CNN president Jeff Zucker — who presided over the network’s “all-Trump-all-the-time” policy during the 2016 primaries — was privately offering guidance to candidate Trump. Zucker had helped build the Trump myth years earlier when he was at NBC presiding over Trump’s “Apprentice” show, which turned out to be financially and politically crucial for his path to the White House.
Under the ongoing reign of the casino economy, the corporate house is set up to always win.
Now, after doing so much to help create a political Frankenstein, most of the big media organizations are largely disapproving. While the right-wing zealots at places like Fox News and aligned talk-radio and online entities are determined to re-elect Trump, the majority of mainstream media outlets are down on him. Yet the tenor of their coverage, including news of the latest polls, should not lull anyone into a false sense of security about Trump’s impending demise — a demise they’ve predicted before.
Trump won in 2016 while the bubble inhabited by elite media was rarified and cut off from the everyday experiences, frustrations and anger of everyday people. As a consummate demagogue, he knew how to stoke and pander to resentments against elites — resentments that mainstream media seemed clueless about.
The corporate media are part of a system that thrives on rampant income inequality, giving more and more power to the rich while doing more and more harm to people the less money they have. Media elites are apt to do fine whether Trump wins or loses the election.
Four years ago, Trump played off the elitism of the establishment to ply his toxic political product laced with racism, xenophobia and misogyny. He has governed the same way he ran in 2016, and he hopes to govern for the next four years the way he’s running in 2020 — using the broadly and vaguely defined establishment as a foil for his poisonous, pseudo-populist messaging.
Amid the bombshell coverage of Trump’s tax records, it might be tempting to believe the tide has turned and will drown his election hopes. But that’s wishful thinking.
It would take more than two hands to count the times during the last several years when Trump’s preposterous and vile statements — or the emergence of incontrovertibly damning facts — provided ample reasons for his political fortunes to turn into toast. Instead, he has continued to conduct a national master class in demagogy.
Trump would like nothing more than to play his victim card yet again while media give the impression that he’s headed for defeat — a combination that worked like a charm for him in 2016. It could easily happen again. With voting now underway, healthy skepticism toward media spin is badly needed.
Four years ago, corporate media overwhelmingly insisted that the likelihood of a Trump presidency was remote. On Election Day, the New York Times categorically pegged the chances of a Trump win at less than 10 percent. Now, those who want to prevent another Trump victory should go all-out to show they won’t be fooled again.
Norman Solomon is the national director of RootsAction.org and the author of many books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California for the 2020 Democratic National Convention.