Iranian state television played a videoof a missile launch. Donald Trump saw an opportunity to claim vindication.
“Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “They are also working with North Korea. Not much of an agreement we have!”
Turns out the test never happened.
Trump-friendly Fox News reported Monday that U.S. officials say the Iranian report was a fake, the launch footage from a failed test in January. CNN quickly confirmed with its own government sources: the U.S. president had been duped by an adversary.
In some other era, such an error would have been a significant news story. In the Trump era, it barely registered.
There is too much else going on.
America is being buried in a White House news avalanche, much of it triggered by the president’s own explosions and missteps. The astonishing volume of Trump-related daily developments has obscured events that would previously have merited intense coverage, leaving Trump’s allies and foes alike scrambling to adjust to a media era unlike any other.
“Controversies that used to take place over several weeks and occupy centre stage are now merely one storyline out of half a dozen that are washing through the daily or weekly news cycle. We’ve had days where a potential nuclear confrontation with North Korea is the second or third story in the news,” Kevin Madden, former top spokesperson for presidential candidate Mitt Romney, told Torstar on Tuesday.
One of those days was Monday.
North Korea’s foreign minister announced that, in the regime’s view, Trump had “declared a war” by tweeting that the regime “won’t be around much longer” if it continues to speak the way dictator Kim Jong Un has spoken. He added that they now have the right to shoot down U.S. bombers even outside of North Korean airspace.
This did not lead the evening news.
CBS and ABC began with Trump’s ongoing attack on NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest racism and police misconduct. NBC began with the post-hurricane humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, which has itself been obscured by the emotional battle over the protesters.
Trump’s ban on travellers from some Muslim-majority countries generated furious protest and a Supreme Court case when it was first introduced in January. The updated version issued on Sunday — which extended the ban from 90 days to indefinite — prompted just a single question at the White House press briefing on Monday, the day after it was introduced.
There were three briefing questions about the travel habits of Trump’s health secretary, Tom Price, whom Politico reported has spent more than $400,000 on private jets after experiencing a single airport delay while flying commercial.
The website Vox called it a “scandal,” but it wasn’t being widely treated as one yet. One New York Times article on the controversy ran on the 18th page of the printed paper. Others did not make print at all.
Late Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump blasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a private meeting with conservative leaders. And the New York Times reported that senior Trump aides had used personal email accounts for official business.
Both of these remarkable Trump stories appeared certain to be crowded out by all the other Trump stories.
“Trump is a permanent political eclipse that blacks out good news, bad news and everything in between,” said Democratic strategist Craig Varoga. Varoga said Democrats should try to turn Trump’s chaos against Republican candidates in the 2018 midterm elections, making a “patriotic appeal to all voters, of all political persuasions, to restore calm and stability as a prerequisite to growing the economy, creating jobs and avoiding war.”
But it has been hard for Democrats to drive home any kind of message since Trump’s emergence in 2015.
In her new book, Hillary Clinton lamented that her campaign’s jobs message in 2016 was drowned out by Trump’s relentless feud-picking. On Twitter in 2017, average liberals complain daily that Trump is successfully distracting the public from damaging stories. And anti-Trump grassroots activists say they frequently feel overwhelmed by the pace of the news.
“Every day. Every day. Don’t you? I mean, it’s just madness,” said Pat Fogg, founder of RESIST Central Maine.
Some prominent Democrats say the concern about the short shelf life of Trump-era controversy is overblown. Despite a September uptick in support, he is hovering around the woeful first-year plateau of 40 per cent.
“The challenge for the Democrats is to weave these stories into a coherent narrative about Trump and the Republicans. It’s a work in progress, but Trump’s abysmal approval ratings suggest that the public is not missing the forest for the trees,” said Dan Pfeiffer, former White House communications director for Barack Obama.
It is not only Democrats fretting. Republican members of Congress gripe that the president’s impulsive musings and tirades are impeding the policy messages they are trying to communicate themselves. In the days leading up to Trump’s major Wednesday speech on the party’s tax reform plan, the president has relentlesslytalkedand tweeted about the NFL.
Fogg said her Maine group focuses on the issues they think they can impact, knowing there is “not much we can do” about much of the rest. Ben Wikler, a Washington director for major progressive group MoveOn.org , said they too subscribe to “the political equivalent of the Serenity Prayer”: ignoring the “blizzard of outrages” they can’t change to choose the important fights where people power can matter.
“Trump has demonstrated in his campaign, and continues to show, that his most powerful weapon is changing the subject to the topic of his choosing. But for people who believe the GOP agenda has to be stopped, our job is to cut through the noise and figure out where we can make a difference,” Wikler said.