Just ignore Trump’s media “awards”

The best thing media outlets could do in response to President Trump’s latest cynical stunt is to give it absolutely zero coverage

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

A little less than a week ago, the president of the United States announced during one of his characteristic fits of Twitter pique that he would be putting on his very own awards show. “I will be announcing THE MOST DISHONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA AWARDS OF THE YEAR,” Donald Trump tweeted on January 2. He scheduled the big announcement for Monday, January 8 -- today -- at 5 p.m.

No one really knew what the hell to make of all this, given that the whole concept came out of nowhere -- it capped a busy Twitter afternoon for the president in which he lashed out at the Pakistanis and the Palestinians and also threatened nuclear war with North Korea. The most likely explanation for this cockamamie “awards” presentation is that Trump got mad at something he saw during his many hours of TV watching, came up with this idea on the spot, and tweeted it out before anyone on his staff had a chance to tell him not to.

The obvious slapdash nature of Trump’s “awards” idea, combined with the short timeframe and the president’s well-established habit of not following through on his own announcements, meant that there was a strong chance it wouldn’t actually happen. And, sure enough, yesterday afternoon Trump pushed back the date of the “awards” from today to next Wednesday, January 17.

Regardless of whether the president actually meets his new deadline, I have a simple suggestion for how press outlets should cover Trump’s dumb “awards” presentation going forward: don’t.

Give it zero coverage. Just ignore him completely.

I realize I’m fighting a losing battle here, but there is no compelling reason for any news organization to devote a single moment of attention to this massively cynical stunt by the president. First of all, there is no actual “news” to be had. The overarching story -- Donald Trump hates the media -- is already well-worn and doesn’t carry any new policy or political significance. Trump singles out specific media personalities for criticism all the time, and it’s all-but guaranteed that the “winners” are going to be people that the White House has already attacked and/or demanded be fired.

Viewers and readers will be missing out on literally nothing if they’re not told which reporter Trump thinks is the biggest liar. The contrived “awards show” branding is the only new angle to this nonsense, and its sole purpose is to draw press attention to the president.

That brings us to the second reason why media outlets should determinedly ignore this farce: Trump is using you and he’s not being at all coy about it. There is no good faith to be found here, and the president has no interest in the media outside of how he can use it to promote himself. In this case, he’s taking a gratuitous kick at the industry over some of its failures to nurture his own sense of victimhood. There’s no reason why anyone in the press has to play along with this foolishness that he whipped together while rage-tweeting on a lazy afternoon.

What Trump is counting on is that the media won’t be able to resist a story about the media, and his cynicism in that regard is justified given the vanity and navel-gazing instincts of the political press. The immediate reaction from reporters and pundits to Trump’s “awards” was a round of thirsty joking about how they hope they get picked. The as-yet nonexistent “awards” have already become something of a status symbol, with celebrity D.C. chef Jose Andres offering a free lunch to the “winners.” There seems to be a general understanding that this is a dumb game that accomplishes nothing beyond reinforcing existing animosities and perpetuating the perverse relationship that exists between Trump and the press, but no one seems to want to change it.

The arguments for ignoring Trump completely are many and good. The first is that it’s the precise opposite of what he wants. Trump is angling to pick a fight and he thinks he can do it with nothing more than a few angry tweets. For news outlets that are struggling to find the balance between adversarial coverage of the president and outright hostility, this is a lay-up: just don’t cover this one inconsequential thing that he really wants covered. Also, resolute silence from the people he’s needlessly attacking will drive Trump nuts. The “winners” in particular should say absolutely nothing about it -- just let the president bark all he wants and get on about your business.

There’s also an element of dignity and self-respect in not indulging this insane freakshow. There were a lot of high-profile errors and mistakes from reporters this year, but the industry can and should address that on its own terms and not give any hint of deference to the bad-faith, self-interested howling of Donald Trump.

The best, easiest thing the press could do in response to Trump’s “corrupt media awards” provocation is nothing. Trump’s stunt only works if it gets attention, so don’t give it the attention it hasn’t earned and doesn’t deserve.