There is an old story, true or not, that brings out a truth about people. Supposedly Albert Einstein, when he was teaching at Princeton, began writing the 10s multiplication table on the blackboard: 1 x 10 = 10, 2 x 10 = 20, and on up to 9 x 10 = 91. At this point the class broke out in laughter at Einstein’s mistake.
But that was precisely Einstein’s point. He said, “I got 9 formulas right without a single congratulation. It was my one miscue that got your attention.” Einstein went on to claim that we are socially trained to ignore good things, successes, and achievements, and focus bad things: errors, mistakes, wrong-doings, scandals, and catastrophes. Things we fear.
Donald Trump understands this principle and applies it to his behavior. One of the reasons he was elected president is that he received approximately 10 times the news exposure that Hillary Clinton received. He found out that good things are not news to the U.S. media corporations; bad things are, threats are.
The greater the lie about wrong-doing, scandal, failure the more airtime he got. He did all these things in front of cameras.
Trump found out that the more outlandish the lie, the more airtime he received.
He tried to extort complicity from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a scheme to undermine his presidential opponent. The house even impeached him for that outlandish crime, but the Republican-controlled Senate refused to convict him, even though most of the evidence was in the news.
So, he came up with the even biggest lie ever, that he had won the 2020 election, that somehow hundreds of thousands if not millions of votes were fraudulent. Bad news, though totally false. Today, three years later it is still in the news and running well.
The large media corporations are primarily interested in making money and only secondarily in the news. They, too, understand the Einstein Principle. That is why Trump still receives about 10 times the airtime and space in newspapers than president Joe Biden.
Pundit after pundit chide the Democrats for not getting their message across to the American people. The Democrats put hundreds if not thousands of press releases out every day. Once a day the White House conducts a press conference where dozens of reporters can ask any question they please.
It is not the responsibility of the Democratic Party to get those messages to the American people; that is the media corporations’ responsibility.
The Republican Party, in collusion with the American media corporations, has succeeded in convincing a large minority of the American people, that Biden hasn’t done enough with his presidency. That despite Biden’s (1) recovery act, (2) 2021’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, (3) COVID act, (4) 2022-23 Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, (5) the Inflation Reduction Act, (6) restoring the clean air, clean water, and clean drinking water acts, (7) setting record enrollments for the ACA, to mention only a few.
This is all very good news. All these laws and their programs seem to be working gloriously. After two catastrophic years, the economy is booming (in fact, booming too much). Yet Trump gets 10 times the coverage for his destructive tenure in office as Biden and his accomplishments today — even on MSNBC.
Trump is obviously playing the media corporations for all they’re worth. He and the MAGA Republicans live in an alternate world filled with “alternate facts” as Kellyanne Conway put it. A world in which President Obama was born in Kenya. A world where Biden is president because Democrats managed to rig thousands of voting machines to switch Trump votes to Biden. A world in which vaccinations are bad for your health and doctors performing even life-saving abortions should be sent to prison. A world dreamed up by the wannabe autocrat Donald Trump and his coterie of MAGA supporters.
All the media corporations are representing this “alternate” world to the American people disproportionately day and night by either criticizing it or promoting it.
I think most folks would call that “collusion,” whether accidental or not.
Robert Beard is professor emeritus, Linguistics & Russian studies programs at Bucknell University.