Don’t get David Brooks wrong. He’s not celebrating the fact that Donald Trump is “good for business” in this interview yesterday with CBN’s David Brody. In fact, he’s worried that the New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media has “made Donald Trump our business model.” This is a lament, not an end-zone dance.
And while Brooks says his NYT editors tell him to write what he wants, Brooks knows what pays the bills, baby:
In a one-on-one interview with CBN’s Chief Political Analyst David Brody, New York Times Columnist David Brooks admits that when it comes to the media industry, President Trump has been “good for business.”
Brooks believes Trump has changed the media model for business practices and laments that as a failure. Yet, in a candid assessment of his own tendencies as a columnist, he tells CBN News, “How do I drive traffic? I write something nasty about Donald Trump.”
Let’s face it — online news sources write with their audiences’ interests in mind anyway. No one sets out to write a column, an article, or a blog post that will get ignored by everyone. Just as subscriptions and sales are the coin of the realm to advertisers in print media and the Nielsen and Arbitron ratings are in broadcast media, page views and clicks are in online ad sales. It pays the bills. Brooks could write all year long about agricultural policy — an important if unexciting topic — but he’d shortly find himself writing to his friends about it while someone else tackled the Trump beat.
Brooks is lamenting something more specific, however — the pressure to pander to readers. Brooks doesn’t just say that he writes about Trump, but that he knows he can drive traffic if he writes “something nasty” about him. It’s an admission, tacit at least, that the New York Times readership isn’t interested in fair and balanced coverage of the administration, and that therefore skews the coverage and commentary the outlet produces. That might only be news to the readers of the NYT, of course, but it’s still a surprising admission from Brooks. In another context of the same interview, Brooks also laments the political tribalization of evangelical Christians, but Brooks might consider whether media outlets have gone through the same process — especially in the Trump era, but starting long long long before that.
Be sure to pay attention to Brooks’ thoughtful take on the evolution of evangelical Christians, and his intriguing notion that it might be a poll-driven phenomenon. His existential question about the news media echoes in a way Trump’s repeated claims that the NYT will go bankrupt after he leaves office. “What’s it look like after Trump?”