Why, oh why, can’t America’s news media tell the Donald Trump story? In their defense, there is a lot of the Trump story to tell and it’s always happening at breakneck speed. There are Constitutional violations, violations of decency, outright racism, sexism and bigotry, lies about the coronavirus and his criminally inept response to it. There’s outright treason and all-around insanity. With so much to keep track of, maybe what our broadcast news outlets should do — if only for themselves — is run a “Previously On…” sequence before they start any new reporting on Trump.
The “Previously On” sequence has become a staple of serialized television storytelling. Here’s what you need to know from past episodes so that THIS episode will make sense. The storytellers dip into the AGGREGATED storyline to remind the audience WHAT THEY ALREADY SHOULD KNOW. America’s news media (especially its broadcast news media) has made a total hash of covering Donald Trump specifically because it can’t even remind itself what it knows about the story they’ve been covering now for five freaking years.
A lot of us watch MSNBC and CNN less for the news itself than for how the Fourth Estate acquits itself. Journalism is the only non-governmental job mentioned in the Constitution — as our final check on power. Imagine having a story this amazing to tell! Imagine being this bad at telling it. How the hell does that even happen?
How can a network that has smart, quick minds like Nicolle Wallace, Rachel Maddow, Ali Velshi and JoyAnn Reid — the whole Trump story clearly in their heads — also put dullards like Meet The Press host Chuck Todd and Weekend host Alex Witt on its air? How can Nicolle be so far ahead of the story while Alex is so far behind it?
It’s strange to, in essence, know certain things when Nicolle’s on the air then know nothing as soon as Alex Witt slips into the hosting chair. Nicolle would never ask any of the questions Alex asks because, in essence, Nicolle’s already asked them — asked them (when the details were fresh), established new details as facts then built on those facts to advance the narrative. Alex Witt, meanwhile, asks generic questions that suggest she’d be shocked to learn what her colleague there at the news network knew a week ago.
How is that possible? How can one news show on a news network be fully up to date with important details that the very next show up seems to know nothing about? The result of this “some know, some don’t” dynamic is that — from the audience’s point of view — we can never be sure of what we know because even the news networks refuse to ever be sure about it.
If you were watching a new, serialized TV show that never played a “previously on” sequence and, instead, kept taking the show back to a kind of “Square One” to begin each episode, after a while, the audience would bail out of sheer frustration with the storytellers. Tell the story or get out of the way.
What a “previously on” sequence also does is create context within context. Context is our news media’s kryptonite. But then, our news media still believes “both sides do it”. They can hardly even spell “context”.
Every TV show now begins with two words: “Previously On”.
On the one hand, it’s a nod to any newbies who might be watching. These are the basic story threads you need to know about. But, on the other hand, the “Previously On” part of a show is where the storytellers get to remind the whole audience about certain important, key details from the story’s past that are about to become very important to the story’s future.
The point is, “Previously On” begins with a very clear concept: THIS IS WHAT WE KNOW.
This is what the story — and its characters — have revealed and revealed about themselves so far. This is our accumulated, aggregated knowledge. This is our STARTING POINT going forward.
Why, I’d like to know, can’t journalists — well, our most of our video journalists for sure — do this simple, storytelling thing? Why can’t they aggregate a story before reporting on it? Why can’t they start from what we know so far instead of what we knew back then (whenever “then” was)?
It’s like watching a TV show where the audience is always miles ahead of the storytellers because the audience has been keeping track of the story while the tellers keep going back to “fade in”.
If America’s journalists had been keeping track of Donald Trump — adding to what we know about him and then basing all new reporting off of that — Donald Trump would never have been president in the first place. That is, he would never have gotten close enough for his pal Vladimir to vote suppress & cheat “wins” out of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan in 2016. That’s because even before Trump ran, we knew — meaning the information was available in the public domain if only one went looking for it (journalistically) — that Donald Trump was a criminal.
What motivated Fusion to sub-contract out to Christopher Steele, was the question. Steele had been The Guy running the MI6’s Russia Desk. He had the best sources inside Russia of anyone outside Russia. Steele’s rep was solid top to bottom. When the FBI went after FIFA’s Sep Blatter for corruption, they hired Chris Steele to do a lot of heavy lifting for them. He’s good.
But, WHY did Fusion feel the need to sub-contract anything out to Chris Steele? Simpson testified that, upon the hire, Fusion did what they always did — what any reputable research company would do: their due diligence. In Fusion’s case, it got its hands on every PUBLICLY AVAILABLE newspaper article, magazine piece, radio interview, TV appearance — anything and everything about Donald Trump. They researched online. They bought things from Amazon. They listened to Howard Stern. They went to old book stores and combed the shelves. They even went to the public library.
Simpson testified that what Fusion found there — in publicly available material — convinced them that Donald Trump was very possibly a criminal. A shitload of evidence pointed to Trump laundering Russian mob money through the buying and selling of condos in Trump properties and (especially) through his (now bankrupt) Atlantic City casinos. Regardless of whether Trump humiliated himself sexually with Russian hookers on video or humiliated himself by being overtly racist (on video) while Russian hookers pissed all over the bed in Moscow where the Obamas slept, Trump laundered Russian mob money. As much as Trump and those around him insist that “Trump’s a germaphone! He would never consort with hookers!” no one has yet asserted “And he would never launder money for Russian mobsters”.
Strange that, don’tcha think?
You’d think, in the story we’re all bingeing on because it’s our lives, that THAT kind of detail — that no one denies Trump’s a money launderer for the Russian mob — would make it onto the “Previously On” somewhere somehow. And yet, between CNN & MSNBC, no one seems to grasp how stories and storytelling works. They certainly don’t grasp that, in a sense, ALL stories begin with a collective sense of “Previously On”.
If our MSM had “Previously On-ed” this story from the beginning, here’s (a little of) what that “Previously On” would contain…
Mitch McConnell refused to let We The People in on the secret that Russia was actively trying to make Donald Trump POTUS. At the September “Gang Of 8 Meeting” in the White House, McConnell told Obama that if he made that fact public, McConnell would accuse Obama of politicizing the intelligence. In point of fact, Obama was trying to tell America the truth.
His political party openly broke every established norm that allowed for bi-partisan governance. Mitch McConnell denying Merrick Garland a hearing was a Constitutional crisis all by itself because one branch of govt was denying another its Constitutionally mandated role. We The People voted for Barack Obama. THAT was his authority to nominate judges.