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Seymour Hersh is a very famous journalist. Last Wednesday night, he tangled a bit with Don Lemon, the much younger CNN star.
Hersh appeared on Lemon's show to promote his new memoir, Reporter—or at least, Lemon seemed to think his guest was there for that purpose. In reality, Hersh took the occasion to challenge the way cable news is conducting The Chase against Donald J. Trump.
Hersh's remarks weren't perfectly cogent, and they weren't fully fleshed out. But we think his critique is well worth reviewing. For the full transcript, click here.
As the interview started, Lemon teed Hersh up to criticize Trump's latest attack on the press. But Hersh took a different route:
HERSH (6/13/18): Disliking Trump is like catnip for American audiences. Obviously, television is doing much better. You guys are getting better ratings. The newspapers, the New York papers and the Washington Post, are getting more audience, and going after Trump is really good news.Oof. Right off the bat, Hersh suggested that cable news spends all its time chasing Trump because it's good for ratings. He said he wished they would spend more time discussing serious issues, including issues which may have nothing to do with Trump.
And I sometimes think that—I just wish sometimes, instead of so much about Trump and how awful he is, and there's certainly a lot of things not to like about him, I wish sometimes we'd talk more about what's going on in Yemen, about mothers having their children taken away at the border and all that.
I wish that was more of a focus. But I can understand Trump is great for ratings. He just is. That's just the reality.
Obviously, the cable networks have been discussing the situation with children at the border in the days since this interview aired. But after Lemon pushed back a bit against Hersh's remarks, Hersh kept pouring it on:
HERSH: The problem is, [Trump] is going up in the ratings the more we complain about him.Once again, Lemon pushed back, saying the press is just doing its job. Hersh didn't quite seem to agree:
I complain about him too. Nobody likes his cabinet, those people, what's going on in the cabinet and the various divisions of the government. The mistreatment of people, the federal workers, is outrageous.
On the other hand, he's going up in ratings. And so I don't see the Democratic Party doing anything but basically running, sort of as Hillary did, running against him for the last two months of the campaign. And I'm not sure that, if I'm not in the major cities in America, I'm not sure—
This guy is different. And I think people are tired of politicians. And he appeals for a lot of reasons that maybe we don't all understand...
HERSH: You know, with all due respect, and I'm not talking about you or your show...We now have a situation where a lot of people tune in to what they like, and don't listen to what they don't like.Hersh just wouldn't stop. His critique didn't make perfect sense, nor was it fleshed out thoroughly. But he seemed to be saying that Trump is the eventual winner in the game of polarized "news" and in The Eternal Chase conducted by cable news. The stars are playing a role in a pantomime Trump is running, a game he's going to win.
HERSH: It's good for cable television on both sides, mostly for Fox News, CNN, MSNBC. And you guys, you've got great ratings, you're making money. I think The New York Times, every quarter, says it's picked up another 200,000 subscriptions because they're very critical of Trump.
And so you have this notion, if you don't like Trump, you're going to go here. If you like Trump, you're going to go somewhere else. And where is the middle ground? Where is the media that is accepted? Where is the media that, whatever they say, is going to have some standing? It's not going to be tuned out by 40 percent of the people, whatever percentage?
It just seems to me that at this rate, if I'm watching, yes, Trump went to the summit not knowing much about it. Yes, he doesn't read anything. And yes, he's famous for just doing running on instinct. But you know...
He's been in public life for 15, 20 years. There is just that outside chance...with all these tweets and all that other stuff, he just may have some idea what he's doing. He's keeping it focused on him, whether good or bad or otherwise. It works for him. And so I don't know if we're not all caught up in a pantomime that he's probably, maybe, doing better at running.
Once more, Lemon tried to make Hersh stop. He tried, but still didn't succeed:
LEMON: I got to get you to tell us about the book, though, because that's why you're here.To watch this whole segment, click here.
HERSH: Let me say one more point. The last thing I expect you to do is agree with me.
LEMON: Of course.
HERSH: I'm just giving you a point of view. I'm thinking about, what's he going to do after the next election? You know, I'm just worried. He just may be playing a longer game than we think.
LEMON: Of course he is. We know that. I know that.
HERSH: Then we're all sort of playing his game. It's his game. That's what bothers me.
Is the press corps playing Donald Trump's game? Is that especially true on cable, where the various high-minded stars talk about Nothing But Trump, and do so All Day Long?
Could that be why Trump's approval ratings seemed to be inching up in the past month or so, with Mueller's approvals inching down? Increasingly, we've been wondering about that, much as Hersh has done.
We'd guess that the current treatment of children at the border will hurt Trump politically. That said, we share Hersh's overall sense of the way The Chase on CNN and MSNBC may be working out.
Is cable news playing Trump's game by making their product All Trump All The Time? We suspect they possibly are.
Tomorrow, a recent cable news example of Trump Perpetual Chase Disorder. The segment in question aired on June 13, the same night Hersh appeared.
Also this, from north of the border: In this interview with CBC's Diana Swain, Hersh explained his view with a bit more clarity.
The cable news focus on Every Trump Utterance is "so easily manipulated by the White House," he complained.
It's "good for ratings," he told Swain. But it's "terrible for journalism."
We're inclined to think that Hersh is right. Recent examples to follow.