President Trump and the media have an interesting relationship. Each is the object of the other’s obsession, though neither seems willing to admit it.
I’m not sure what this says about me because I’m obsessed with the relationship.
There’s something strangely captivating about watching such abject dysfunction manifest itself on such a big stage.
I find myself looking at every major news story, especially those that have absolutely nothing to do with the president or the U.S., and wonder when and how the media will work Trump into the narrative, or how Trump himself will shoehorn his way into the story.
I’m rarely disappointed.
As I watched Notre Dame cathedral burn Monday, I thought, “No. Not now. Surely, there’s no way the president can find his way into this one. And then this, on CNN’s website:
“Trump gives fire advice. See how French officials responded.”
The president, apparently trying to be helpful, though I’m not sure about his qualifications in fire management, offered this tweet, as flames engulfed the medieval cathedral:
“So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out.”
It’s not the worst suggestion I’ve ever heard but what do I know. I almost set my kitchen on fire once when I put a pan of burning oil under the faucet.
The French Civil Security agency responded to Trump with a tweet of its own:
“The weight of the water and the intensity of the drop at low altitude could indeed weaken the structure of Notre-Dame and result in collateral damage to the buildings in the vicinity.”
OK, so it wasn’t such a great idea.
But CNN, in its effort to show that all roads, foreign and domestic, lead to Trump, ran several stories on the tweets.
“That Trump offered his own two cents on the best way to put out the fire as opposed to simply expressing condolences is a reflection of his belief that a) everyone wants his opinion at all times and b) his is an expert opinion, no matter what the subject matter,” wrote Chris Cillizza, in an analysis of the exchange.
Cillizza is probably right. On the other hand, maybe Trump, as a real estate tycoon, knows something about large structures and fire, although I don’t recall him ever owning any five-star, 850-year-old cathedrals.
But there is one thing about which I am absolutely certain – as much as Trump and the mainstream media loathe each other, they need each other.
Batman needs the Joker. Tom needs Jerry. Holmes needs Moriarty.
Trump will always take the bait, but so will the media. They can’t help themselves. Such is the nature of an unhealthy, mutual obsession.
On Tuesday, Stephen Colbert made fun of Trump’s firefighting suggestion.
“Does he think every time there’s an emergency in France, they’re like ‘Claude, ze Cathedral is on fire! We must check Donald Trump’s Twitter feed,” Colbert said,
The Washington Post ran an opinion piece under the headline, “As Notre Dame burned, Trump again tweeted something abnormal.”
From the Associated Press: “Trump offers unsolicited advice on fighting Notre Dame fire.”
When the president of the United States tweets, it’s news, regardless of the subject matter. But when this president tweets, it’s manna from heaven, or chum in the water, depending on your perspective.
Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of all people, is outraged.
“All day on TV - and I don’t even watch TV, except sports. But he says somebody had a horse face - all day we hear about that. We hear about Kanye West, all day. You just give him all day!” Pelosi said in November, as she called out media outlets for their Trump obsession.
What would Trump and the media do without each other? What would Trump do without Twitter?
CNN would have to go back to covering the news. The president would have to find another vehicle for his stream of consciousness and, for the rest of us, the air would smell sweeter and food would taste better.
I never thought I’d write this, or even think it, but maybe the media need to listen to Pelosi.
The world is a big place. There’s certainly more in creation worthy of our attention than Trump’s Twitter feed.
Sure, things would be a little more boring but, as my father used to say, “A little boredom isn’t such a bad thing.”
Rich Manieri is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is currently a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. You can reach him at email@example.com.