From his initial descent down Trump Tower's gaudy escalator, to the sound of applause from hired actors, everything Trump has said and done from that fateful day has been designed to make the greatest PR impact.
Sadly, as many of us have learned and as we saw again last night, this president has no qualms inventing facts to drive his singular goal. Forget policy or the greater good. It’s all about making the biggest, most audacious media splash in order to dominate the narrative or deflect the negative.
News organizations, which have long bristled at being cogs in PR or marketing campaigns, have sadly played unwitting roles in Trump’s PR schemes.
Trump plans publicity blitz over wall demand https://t.co/HOfues0f9W— Financial Times (@FT) January 7, 2019
Against this backdrop, the very network news divisions that have withstood daily attacks from Trump chose to hand over their prime-time airwaves (and reputations) to allow this man to spin America scared.
Update to the update: NBC, ABC, and CBS will all carry Trump's address Tuesday night. Wall to wall coverage of his pro-wall speech. Hopefully surrounded by fact-checking. https://t.co/ttRKY7xVWG— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) January 7, 2019
As The Atlantic's James Fallows noted in his piece "The Networks Blew the Call:" "There was also a clearly unprecedented reason not to carry the speech: namely, that nearly everything Trump says on this topic is intentionally inflammatory and either carelessly or deliberately untrue. Politics always involves spin and selective emphasis, but the networks would know for sure ahead of time that they were using their resources to advance untruths."
What causes considerable concern among today’s media watchers—NYU's Jay Rosen among them—is that the media will repeat the same mistakes they made in 2016; something CNN president Jeff Zucker admitted his network did then by carrying Trump's campaign rallies live unfiltered.
With the networks’ decision to carry Trump’s speech live, Rosen tweeted out the following questions: How likely is it that this speech will inform our viewers? How can we prevent him from misinforming our viewers? Ours is the power to amplify. Is this how we want to use it? These are the questions I want the networks to be asking tonight. Did I miss one?
Yes, I tweeted back at him:
"Now that they’ve all caved, the question remains: what mechanism will each news org deploy to debunk the falsehoods, and will they do so in real time or after the fact?"
It’s too soon to know what residual effect this PR gambit will have on public opinion. It also remains to be seen whether the network-allotted rebuttal by the Democratic leadership served as the right balancing tool.
But let’s not forget, this showman has yet another PR activation on the southern border Wednesday.
Peter Himler is founding principal at Flatiron Communications. Find him on Twitter: @peterhimler