Our News Media Should Begin Every News Broadcast With A “Previously On” Segment So Even THEY Know The Story AS IT IS Already

What is it about returning to “Square One” every day that America’s news media finds so alluring? It’s as if, in their heads, even after the Red Wedding, they all keep waiting for Eddard Stark to reappear in the story. If our news media had been doing its job correctly, our starting point every day — in the Donald Trump Presidency story — wouldn’t be “a different kind of POTUS running a different kind of presidential campaign”. It’d be about a stone cold TRAITOR, surrounded by co-conspirators, stumbling through their coup d’etat’s death throes. That IS the story that we’re starting with TODAY, Election Day 2020.

The genius of a “previously on” segment in a story is that, with a few quick reminders — visual and auditory — most of what’s gone on BEFORE this episode started gets re-established in the audience’s mind: here’s what you need to know NOW if the next part of the story’s going to make any sense to you. Of course, “previously on” assumes the audience is up to date enough with where the story is that these quick reminders will set up the next part of the story. That assumes, of course, that the storyteller is up to date. Our problem, here in America — our storytellers don’t seem to know much about the very story they’re reporting on!

I watch a lot of news. I don’t watch so much “for” the news (that’s what Twitter’s for — even the news networks keep their fingers on that pulse), I watch (through metaphorical fingers) for how the news networks report the news. I’m a storyteller by trade and nature. So are journalists — they’re real-time storytellers. Regardless of whether you tell stories in real time or with a little hindsight, the rules of storytelling are the same. If you want to do it correctly, every scene needs to add new information to what we knew in the previous scene. Even if it’s to subtly shade a story nuance, a scene must add something or it doesn’t belong. It’s telling the audience something it already knows.

Why, we have to ask, is the storyteller doing that? For the benefit of the story? No. For the benefit of the audience? No. They’re doing it for their own benefit — because they need to keep reminding themselves what the story is. And, if you’re telling a story this important to the Commonweal and the greater good? You had better deliver your A-game. Alas, that is not happening with most of our news media.

That’s the frustration a lot of us have felt all along as we watch this story unfold — and as we watch the news media struggle to tell the story. Their audience is often miles ahead of them. Now, to be fair, a news audience doesn’t have to maintain the journalistic standards journalists must to maintain their integrity. Me? I can spew anything I like, supported or unsupported. I’m just a guy with an (informed) opinion.

But, that informed opinion is informed mostly by the news media’s reporting. I’ve been aggregating the story all along in my head. You know — “keeping track of it”. Following the characters as we learn more about them — seeing how both they evolve and our understanding of them evolves. Kinda like how Fusion GPS started with one view of Donald Trump — before they began the oppo research the conservative, Jeb-Bush-backing Washington Free Beacon hired them to do in the leadup to election 2016 — then switched to another view of Trump after their due diligence turned up surprising information about him. As Glenn Simpson, Fusion’s co-founder, explained in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in August 2017, Fusion’s due diligence amounted to getting their hands on every piece of publicly available Trump-related material they could from newspapers, magazines, the radio, TV or anywhere.

The reason Fusion contacted Christopher Steele — to help answer some of the questions their due diligence had raised — was because Steele had the best contacts inside Russia of pretty much anyone outside Russia. Fusion was adding information to the story and using it to constantly update their idea of Trump, who he is and what he’s really up to.

On the other side of that equation is our news media who, to this day, continue to scratch their heads, mystified by Trump and his “different kind of POTUS” behavior.

You know what the news media should have been reporting every day? That Donald Trump is the FIRST PRESIDENT EVER to run for re-election HAVING BEEN IMPEACHED — for CHEATING in the very election he’s now running in. And everyone with a double digit IQ agrees that the Republican-led Senate failed to live up to their oaths of office by not even having a real hearing to address the charges.

Think of everything we KNOW about Trump. Think of the cruelty. Of the sexual predation and rape. Think of the cheating on his wives. Think of the racist business practices. Think of the consistently suspicious behaviors — now outed as outright crimes. Think of all the Constitutional violations that, for some reason, we’ve decided to ignore. Think of all the dubious if not downright treasonous relationships Trump has with authoritarian rulers and thugs. Think of what Trump (and Jared Kushner) pal Mohamed bed Salmon did to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Think of this photo (with Trump’s literal “face of treason”) —

Real journalists like Seth Abramson & Sarah Kendzior, working outside institutional journalism, have produced work — using the news media’s own product — to aggregate the story of a criminal coup d’etat by Donald Trump and the Republicans. This is not some imagined fiction. There are receipts FFS. Mountains of them. Hell, we watched treason happen — live and on TV. We’re still watching it today as Donald Trump takes a sledgehammer to what remains of our electoral process, all at the service of Vladimir Putin.

Except this time, just enough of the press is woke — and plenty of the electorate — to move first and protect ourselves. You see, we’ve been aggregating the Trump story. We’ve seen him lie 30,000 plus times and now assume he always lies; it’s incumbent on Trump to PROVE he’s NOT lying. Imagine if the press did that!

Imagine if, during even one news conference, one member of the press — in response to Trump spewing lies at them — had said “I’m sorry, sir, but you’ll need to back that statement up or it’s bullshit”. You don’t ask a liar to explain their lie, you TELL the liar their lie is a LIE. You do NOT give the lie credence.

See the difference? Even if you think the lie’s a lie (inside your head), you’ve asked the question in a way that gives the liar latitude. “Explain” assumes there’s something TO explain. Beginning with “that is a LIE” instead, puts the lie front and center as the status quo. The lie is the one thing we know for a fact. The liar is completely on the defensive and the one arrow in their quiver has no point.

There’s one basic rule of thumb when chasing rabbits. Do NOT follow them down their rabbit holes. Wait for them to re-emerge THEN whack-a-mole them.

As we begin Election Day 2020, the “previously on” segment should have made voting — for those NOT in the Trump Forever 30% — a no-brainer. After all, why would any self-interested person vote for someone as selfish as Trump whose interests begin and end with himself? They wouldn’t.

That’s the story.

“Previously On” The News…

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”.