Our earned-media president

Trump lives for the reaction and craves the controversy. Attention is his oxygen, and free media is the purest form of it. The flip side of that, as NBC News’ Benjy Sarlin put it, is that “He always looks smaller when he isn’t getting a reaction.” We obviously can’t ignore him. He’s the president, the commander-in-chief, and one of the biggest threats to global peace abroad and the Constitution and rule of law at home. But what about being more selective in how much of his antics and outbursts we reflexively cover and the amount of attention we give him?

Which gets us to this: We need him as much as he needs us. When Trump talks about how good his presidency has been for ratings and the media business, he’s right. Remember what former CBS executive Les Moonves said about Trump’s run in 2016: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” The post-election “Trump bump” for news organizations was real, and his presidency continues to drive sky-high ratings and easy web traffic. Why else would CNN and MSNBC cover him all day long, a never-ending BREAKING NEWS presidency?

We didn’t figure him out in 2016. We hardly stopped to assess our performance and rethink our approach for 2017. Trump’s post-midterm press conference was a reminder that he’s still doing it and taunting us while he does it: It’s called “earned media.” It’s worth billions. Go ahead.

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