Instead of killing President Trump, the establishment media are killing themselves.
This appears to be the solution to the current conundrum of American politics: How is President Trump surviving the relentless onslaught of negative media? The counterintuitive conclusion is that this unparalleled negative coverage is more damaging to the source than the target.
According to Rasmussen polling results released on in late April, 54% of likely voters “say they do not trust the political news they are getting.” That is an eight-point increase from last June’s 46%, the poll’s previous high, and 18 points higher than last January’s result.
With just 32% saying “they do trust the political news they are getting,” the establishment media polls well below the President. If trustworthiness is the media’s basic job description, they have an effective job approval rating of 32% favorable, 54% unfavorable. In contrast, President Trump’s job approval rating on the day this poll was released was 48% favorable, 50% unfavorable.
The media’s current approval results are actually below the lowest reading Rasmussen has recorded for Trump’s presidency — 38% last August.
This inversion of expected results differs greatly from past presidential experiences. Although the establishment media have long been perceived as biased by conservatives, hence the decades-long existence of conservative media, the feeling now extends well past the 35% of 2016 voters who identified themselves as conservatives in exit polling.
That a president could actually rebound under this withering coverage only heightens the mystery.
Comparison to a similar phenomenon in economics helps explain this counterintuitive occurrence. Constructed by Arthur Laffer in the 1970s, his Laffer Curve argument gained prominence with “supply siders,” who understood its power for explaining tax cuts’ positive economic impact.
The curve’s premise is that a tipping point exists between tax rates and tax revenue. Beyond the tipping point, a tax increase produces a revenue drop, and vice versa.
Prior to the tipping point, higher tax rates increase revenues — even though higher rates stop some economic activity, it is more than offset by the higher rates’ impact on the remainder. However, post-tipping point, the reverse occurs: The rate increase diminishes activity beyond what the higher rate can offset and overall revenues decline.
How this could occur is mostly easily seen at the extreme. A tax rate of 100 percent does not get a 100% of the former production rate; it gets 100% of the new production rate: 0. Therefore when rates above the tipping point are rolled back, revenues actually rise as production increases.
The same phenomenon is apparently happening with the establishment media’s relentlessly negative coverage of President Trump.
Increasingly people are seeing the obvious: Establishment media’s claim of unbiased coverage has become a transparent joke. We can dub the effect here the Laugher Curve.
A rapidly growing portion of America’s population is not simply tuning out the establishment media; they are turning against it.
Apparently their tipping point has been crossed. Negative coverage, like excessive taxation, has produced the opposite effect from that intended.
Economics does not simply supply an analogy to the current political situation; it drives it. The establishment media’s economic decline has sped their political one. Long gone is their monopoly of decades ago when three television networks determined the news.
As the audience fragments more, the establishment media attract a shrinking segment and grow ever more dependent on it. Increasingly needing to retain it, the establishment media must increasingly cater to it. And in the end: Entertain it.
This only further shrinks their audience and their own credibility — the thing on which their earlier reputation and audience rested.
Clearly what is occurring in the triangle of President Trump, the establishment media, and the American public is not what has happened in the past.
Few past politicians could have survived, let alone be thriving — in the sense that he won election and has rebounded significantly from polling lows in office — under such an establishment media onslaught. Instead, it is the establishment media that appear to be in greater trouble with the public.
Unquestionably, Trump has been the beneficiary of this unintended consequence. Well beyond just his recent rebound in public opinion, the establishment media helped create him in the first place.
Now its self-immolation serves to inoculate him. Like the boy who cried wolf too often, fewer and fewer are likely to believe the establishment media, even should they have a real wolf to report.
- Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He was a congressional staffer from 1987-2000.