Rolled out during last year’s presidential campaign, it is now attempting to position itself as a quasi-official state network intent on counteracting the national news
The age of Trump TV: You won’t get news, only ‘truths’
It has become so common an occurrence as to form its own recurring Twitter meme. On any given evening, two of the three American cable-news networks are likely reporting on the latest developments in the Trump-Russia crisis, or the newest diplomatic encounter set off by the 45th president. Meanwhile, the third, Fox News, happily whistles past the graveyard, ignoring the legislative cul-de-sac in favour of newly uncovered details of Hillary Clinton’s nefarious dealings or Barack Obama’s policy failures.
Fox News, having celebrated its twentieth anniversary last year, has played a significant role in transforming American conservatism into a state of foaming fury. Rupert Murdoch’s network had an easier time of it when its job was to deliver its take on president Obama. Its slate of blow-dried anchors has responded to Trump’s first half-year in office by retreating into an imaginary universe. Left-wing and right-wing fantasies of a more preferable world, it turns out, are much the same: one in which Hillary Clinton is president.
New polling indicates that Trump is haemorrhaging support among white supporters, and the drumbeat of “fake news” assailing the president during his chaotic first months in office, has drowned out all other sound emerging from the nation’s capital.
Enter Trump TV. Rolled out during last year’s presidential campaign, it is now attempting to position itself as a quasi-official state network intent on counteracting the national news media’s vigorous attempts to report on the administration’s stuttering programme.
The first broadcasts from Trump Tower make their allegiances immediately felt. This will not be a genuine media outlet, nor will it even be a communications war room, intent on rolling out the president’s fervent defences of the Republican health-care bill or the inequities of the Mueller investigation. On the contrary, Trump TV is devoted to reporting, as it seeks to remind us, the “real news”. In its bite-sized broadcasts, there is no mention of Mueller or Mitch McConnell, no Anthony Scaramucci or Reince Priebus, no Twitter broadsides against North Korea or fulminating about Obama spying on him. Instead, there is a haphazard list of purported Trump-administration accomplishments. The unemploy-ment rate is at its lowest since 2001; the stock market is booming; veterans are being cared for and honoured for their service.
It is unambiguously propaganda: an alternative news broadcast from a country in which the newspapers have been scrubbed of all their headlines, and the journalists stripped of their inside sources. It is a world in which the president and his officials not only make the decisions on matters of state, but also on what we need to know about their governance.
This is the clarion call of the Trump administration, whose saving grace for its detractors remains its inability to deliver the very things it promises. The two broadcasts to date have each featured a familiar name from Trump’s orbit, loosely matching the reigning Fox News aesthetic for polished female hosts.
Neither Lara Trump (the president’s daughter-in-law) nor Kayleigh McEnany is quite ready for prime time. Trump is enthusiastic but stiff, a newly-wed making polite conversation about her husband’s family business at Thanksgiving dinner.
McEnany, fresh from her run as a pro-Trump CNN talking head, is a slicker presence, selling her bald assertions with vigour, secure in the knowledge that her audience of one heartily approves: “Americans deserve a raise, and President Trump is finally putting the American worker first.”
Neither Lara Trump nor McEnany are helped much by the low-budget aesthetic, which has none of Fox News’ whiz-bang zing. Lara Trump’s segment did not even splurge on graphics, with transitions between its “Morning in America” segments indicated by a brief black screen. McEnany’s effort is slightly more polished, with brief video clips to break up the visual tedium. Couldn’t the Trump team have found a producer with the experience needed to cobble together a two-minute clip with a bit more verve?
The rise of a state-branded propaganda machine inevitably turns many English-language readers to thoughts of George Orwell’s 1984, and the omnipresent screens from which Big Brother simultaneously watches and is watched.
Turning the pages of another Orwell masterwork, his 1940 essay Inside the Whale, its discussion of literature in another moment of ripening chaos has a great deal to say about Trump TV’s audience, and the ambitions of its creator.
Its viewers, like those of Fox News, are Jonahs blithely oblivious to the whale that has just swallowed them: “Only he feels no impulse to alter or control the process that he undergoing. He has performed the essential Jonah act of allowing himself to be swallowed, remaining passive, accepting. It will be seen what this amounts to. It is a species of quietism, implying either complete unbelief or else a degree of belief amounting to mysticism.
The Trump news broadcasts ask his supporters to trust the president unconditionally, thoroughly disregarding the “fake news” readily available from most trustworthy outlets.
These videos, notably, do not feature any of the pugilism of the president’s Twitter account. Donald Trump threatening North Korea with “fire and fury” is genuinely unsettling; Lara Trump praising her father-in-law for his superb stewardship of the economy is merely absurd. But, as Orwell notes in Inside the Whale, he was writing during “an age in which freedom of thought will be at first a deadly sin and later on a meaningless abstraction”.
In 2017 America, we appear to have turned Orwell’s dictum inside out. We live in a time in which the president of the United States is spearheading a campaign to ensure that truth itself is stripped clean of all meaning, egged on by his most devoted supporters. Is Trump TV merely the ad campaign for what is to follow?