I can’t pretend to have mastered the details of the fight between Buzzfeed and Donald Trump (and I don’t think Buzzfeed’s writers have, either), but I have some experience in dealing with the mainstream media as an earnest political candidate, and I think I can explain some of what happened. In short: Trump let his guard down in the hope that the new “cool kids” would like him. And the cool kids abused his trust, because that’s why they’re cool.
When you’re running for office, or even just trying to stay in the political conversation, the prospect of attention from a mainstream media outlet is a huge temptation. You know that the mainstream media, while declining in business, are still the gatekeepers to informed public opinion. That temptation is even greater when the outfit that comes calling is actually a successful and well-funded one that has its finger on the pulse of pop-culture.
And cats. I’ve run out of cat pictures, actually. Will this monkey do?
Anyway, the temptation of mainstream media attention is often one that candidates regret. In the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican nominee John McCain posed gamely for the Atlantic, only to discover that the cover photo did its best to make him look ugly, and that the photographer had posted a mocking series of photoshopped images to her own website.
In my congressional race in 2010, I often rolled out the welcome mat for the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, the two main dailies in the city and the key to respectability. We even held a fundraiser with Paul Ryan–the largest ever for any GOP congressional campaign in Chicago–downtown rather than in the district, so journalists would not have to go far. Many promised–including the Sun-Times‘ Lynn Sweet. None came.
As for the Tribune, I had high hopes they might endorse me, after criticizing my opponent, far-left Rep. Jan Schakowsky, in several previous elections. The interview with the editorial board–was polite and cordial. Imagine my surprise when I found that they had not only endorsed her, but added a gratuitous personal slap, claiming that I had “disdain for people who disagree with” me, a remark that came with zero proof or context.
Still no cats. And this duck is getting bored. Let me get to the point.
The mainstream media, with a few notable exceptions, is not interested in informing the public about both sides of the political divide. Many journalists see themselves as agents of “progressive” change, and hold conservatives in contempt. More than promoting Democrats over Republicans, though, what they really want to do most is promote their own gatekeeping role.
Buzzfeed is a neat company, and though I’ve clashed occasionally with editor Ben Smith, we have a cordial relationship. I’ve also met McKay, and he did not make a pass at me. The political team does some good work. Still, I have no illusions about their agenda–especially after McKay mocked Mitt Romney on a live mic during the 2012 campaign. There’s no sense in opening yourself to personal scrutiny by people who have that attitude.
It appears Buzzfeed owns all the cats, so I’ll let these turtles explain.
What conservatives are starting to learn–starting with Reince Priebus at the Republican National Committee, who commendably took on CNN and NBC–is that the mainstream media do not play fair. And it is up to conservative outlets, beyond right-of-center Fox News, to create successful alternatives that give candidates an audience and respectability. One outlet comes to mind.
Photo credits: me