Politics

Donald Trump Is a Master at Distracting the Media — And Here's How He Does It

December 14th 2016

By:
Mike Rothschild

President-elect Donald Trump has been accused of employing the "bright shiny object" strategy of creating distractions to divert the media from reporting on events less flattering to him.

Trump's seemingly random tweets — on everything from flag burning to Vanity Fair magazine — often appear at the same time as bad news for him.

Trump simply changes the conversation to get people to talk about something other than the bad news.

It's not clear whether he's doing this deliberately or he just has a short attention span, but the result is the same: It changes how the media cover him.

A perfect example happened this week. Trump met at Trump Tower with rapper Kanye West — someone who wouldn't be serving in his administration and whom he easily could have spoken with on the phone.

That same morning, The Washington Post reported the efforts of Russian intelligence to swing the election in Trump's favor.

Both print and TV news outlets covered the Trump-West meeting as if it were a vital story, even though it clearly wasn't.

Even West downplayed the meeting, saying it was simply friends talking about "life."

Meanwhile, Trump didn't comment on the Russian hacking report except to call it "ridiculous."

The West meeting also obfuscated another controversial story: Trump's appointment of Rex Tillerson as his nominee for Secretary of State.

The meeting offered a convenient way for Trump to avoid talking about Tillerson's potential connections to Russia.

Some have speculated that the search for a Secretary of State — including Trump's awkward dinner with Mitt Romney — is itself a shiny object meant to distract the media from focusing on Trump's other cabinet appointments.

Thanksgiving provided another example.

You may have been worrying about how to spend the holiday without getting into a fistfight with your relatives over the election.

Trump tossed out a shiny object in the form of an accusation that "millions of people who voted illegally" cost him the popular vote, despite no compelling evidence supporting the assertion.

That may have been a distraction to affect media coverage of Jill Stein's efforts to fund a recount in key swing states, as well as news of Trump's potential conflicts of interest. (Those still haven't been resolved, while Trump announced — then canceled — a press conference about them.)

Earlier, Trump tweeted in the wake of the Mike Pence/"Hamilton" flap, a shiny object meant to distract the media from reporting on the Trump University fraud suit settlement, as well as the first coverage of what some scholars have been saying is the beginning of a kleptocracy.

Pictures emerged at that time of Trump meeting with the prime minister of Japan — with Trump's daughter Ivanka sitting in on the meeting for some reason.

Trump suggested the media was chasing the shiny object of the recount, rather than focusing on "overall examples of voter fraud and illegal immigrants voting in recent years."

These, it should be pointed out, don't actually exist.

Trump himself is no stranger to being compared to a shiny object, distracting the country and the rest of the Republican candidates.

Trump was deemed a distraction from so-called legitimate candidates as soon as he announced his presidential run in June 2015.

Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, presidential candidates Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, and Obama strategist David Axelrod, among many others, have called Trump himself a distraction.

Is President-elect Trump the thrower of shiny objects or the shiny object himself?

It's likely that the future will bring us numerous examples of him being both.