I’ve had the feeling, the last few days, of watching a Hollywood train wreck in slow motion but with the star believing he is driving the train and the director letting him think so… while both of them convince the audience that the whole thing is real.
Real, that is, and not even a train wreck.
Donald Trump alone can’t negotiate a deal with another country. We’ve all known that. He knows too little. All he can do is sit in the cab and blow the whistle. The Singapore Summit could be nothing more than show. It never could be anything else.
What’s so annoying is that so many took the show seriously. Two thousand journalists flocked to be at the opening, going on TV with serious faces as is something real was going on.
As Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post notes, “Some observers were disgusted.” All we had, as she goes on to describe it, was a “glitzy setting, awash in top-name journalists often reduced to interviewing each other.”
Put aside the fact that nothing came out of the Summit but pablum. No one in their right mind expected more. Put aside the fact of human-rights and other abuses by one of the most repressive (maybe the most) regimes in the world. Put aside the insanity and paternalism of Trump’s words about Kim Jong Un, that “He loves his people, not that I’m surprised by that.”
Focus, instead, on the press.
I’d ask two questions:
- What the hell were you thinking?
- How weak do you think you are, anyhow?
A good reporter can “smell” when something is a show instead of a story. The American news media knew this Summit would be show only yet they were surprised when a White House-prepared video was foisted on them, one that looked more like happy talk from North Korea than anything else. If they had been thinking, the reporters would have all stayed at home, letting the producers put on their show but not abetting it–as they most certainly did and as the news media should never do (but always, sadly, does–see Jay Rosen’s PressThink for more on that).
Only those who believe themselves unsteady, who think they are in precarious positions, follow along with a blowhard like Trump. Anyone with any confidence in their own powers of observation and analysis would have refused, knowing they were being led into a mockery of themselves if they participated. Most in the news media, even knowing that they were participating in an act increasing their own buffoonery, tagged along anyway. They made themselves look feckless. News anchors above the Singapore skyline with serious faces–they looked like they’d stepped right out of The Anchorman or were channeling their inner Ted Baxters.
As Sullivan writes:
Because of wall-to-wall media coverage, carefully choreographed visuals and the usual Trumpian bluster, the Singapore summit largely came across as a triumph of personal diplomacy by the president.
As Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, California, “There is no there there.” The triumph is only in the show, in the smoke and mirrors. In the defeat of substance.
The news media knew this was going to happen well before it did, and participated anyway.
How much more spineless can they get? (Don’t answer that.)