By Andrew Henderson
Both Marvin Kalb and Joseph Hayden argue that the quality of journalism declined in the 1990s. Kalb contends that the technological revolution and the changing business context of journalism “have transformed the news business from one tied to public trust to one linked to titillation and profit.” (p.253) Hayden contends that the growing emphasis on scandal stories in the 1990s compromised journalistic standards and eroded public confidence in the media. He also contends that Presidential scandals can enhance a President’s popularity while diminishing respect for him in the long term. How does the political rise of Donald Trump confirm or contradict the perspectives that Kalb and Hayden advance?
It was Oct. 8, 2016, a day which should have disqualified any other candidate from becoming president. Unless you’re Donald Trump.
Last year, one month before Election Day, the Washington Post published a video and subsequent article of Trump and Billy Bush of Hollywood Access having “an extremely lewd conversation about women.”
The tape was recorded on a hot mic during the filming of “Access Hollywood” on the set of the soap opera “Days of Our Lives.” At one point, Trump and Bush notice actress Arianne Zucker, who is waiting to escort the two on set.
“I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her,” Trump says on the tape. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”
“And when you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”
“Grab them by the p—y,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”
By any and all accounts, one would think this would be a disqualifying statement for a presidential candidate to make, and one that had received the Republican nomination at this point no less.
Dubbed “Pussygate” by some in the media, the Access Hollywood tape scandal was thought to be “the final straw for Donald Trump,” according to Mother Jones magazine.
Reactions to the tape had Republicans condemning Trump en masse, condemning but very rarely revoking their support. However, some, like Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, did revoke their endorsements.
“My wife and I, we have a 15-year-old daughter, and if I can’t look her in the eye and tell her these things, I can’t endorse this person,” Chaffetz said, according to an interview with Salt Lake City’s Fox 13.
The fallout from the “Access Hollywood” tape scandal, at the time, seemed massive, but in reality was another drop in the pocket. During the election season, Slate kept a running tally of the things Trump has done that were said to disqualify him from the presidency. Slate conceded not every item on their list is disqualifying in isolation, but as of early October there were 230 items on the list.
Perhaps this is just proof then of the media having developed a penchant for covering scandals nonstop. It’s definitely a point Marvin Kalb and Joseph Hayden could both nod in agreement with.
Hayden, author of “Covering Clinton: The President and the Press in the 1990s,” argues by the 1990s, print and broadcast journalism were becoming more and more prone to covering celebrity scandals, and network news was beginning to appear “indistinguishable” from entertainment news coming out of the same network.
The 1990s brought us a lot of things like nostalgia we can now capitalize off of in present day, some questionable hairstyles, the 24-hour news cycle and, according to Hayden the “blending of news and entertainment.”
During this time period, Hayden writes, there was great proliferation of video, “news magazines,” cable talk shows, entertainment programs and the like. All of which made for a perfect maelstrom when President Bill Clinton took office.
Clinton, not exactly prone to avoiding scandals to begin with, was “provided lifesaving forums” from the blending of news and entertainment during his 1992 campaign, i.e. playing the saxophone one the “Arsenio Hall” show, but that same blending was “doing daily damage to the image and legitimacy of his presidency in 1998.”
This assessment holds especially true for the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The “thirst in political entertainment for personal scandal,” according to Hayden, is a central factor in how the media played the Lewinsky story at the time.
Another key tenet which made the Lewinsky scandal so potent, especially in the 1990s, was the early heydays of the Internet. Marvin Kalb, author of “One Scandalous Story,” argues the technological revolution which started with cable television in the 1970s and continued with the rise of the Internet in the 1990s has “transformed the news business from one tied to public trust to one linked to titillation and profit.”
Which, in contemporary terms, can be described as “clicks” driving the decisions. This has been true in the two professional newsrooms I have worked in: decisions are based on what people are clicking because it’s something your audience is interested in, and it matters little if that content they’re clicking on is especially relevant to the community you cover.
However, I would argue our technological revolution has even moved past the webpages of the Drudge Report, which first broke the Lewinsky scandal, and has transitioned to social media.
According to Kalb, by 2000 the adult population who said they went online for news at least three days a week clocked in at 23 percent. Contrast that with a August 2017 Pew Research Center study which found 67 percent of Americans report “that they get at least some of their news on social media.”
Yet, while Clinton seemed to suffer for the most part because of the blending of news and entertainment and the rise of the Internet, Trump seems to suffer little consequences.
Even while some members of the Republican party condemned his actions from the “Access Hollywood” tape there wasn’t a massive fallout and it seemed to affect him little at all. This could either be explained by the sheer number of people, places or things Trump had insulted or demeaned at that point or that the blending of news and entertainment had more of a positive effect on Trump.
Perhaps Trump is giving us a real glimpse at the actual blend of news and entertainment, and in the process making it harder and harder for everyone else to draw the lines.