As is often the case with covering President Trump, I find myself torn. I don’t want to give more attention to the thing that we shouldn’t care about — but I do want to talk about why we shouldn’t care about it, which is hard to do without, you know, talking about it.
Many of the much-covered moments from Trump’s first trip abroad fall into this category — the Saudi sword dance, the mysterious glowing orb — but none more than the now viral hand swat by his wife Melania at Ben Gurion Airport.
The oxygen and print space that media outlets have given to this second-long incident, which has zero geopolitical import, amidst a trip with huge geopolitical implications, is astounding. And with apologies for giving it yet more life, I do so in the spirit of pulling our media out of its morass of coastal myopia and trivial obsessions.
In short, forget “fake news” for a minute. We have a “not news” problem.
The moment got its first glimpse of fame when Israeli newspaper Haaretz posted from its official Twitter account a slow motion clip of President Trump attempting to take his wife’s hand and her flicking it away, along with the comment, “Well this is embarrassing.” The tweet now has nearly 46,000 retweets.
But lest you think the hand-swat was merely relegated to social media, it wasn’t. It made actual headlines, and during a time of very serious real news.
It was People Magazine’s biggest story online, before the horrific terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, took its place.
The Washington Post, bringing a clinical eye to their analysis, suggested that “upon close inspection of the footage, perhaps she just missed grabbing his outstretched hand, like a trapeze artist flubbing a catch.”
CNN.com acknowledged that, despite the moment’s awkwardness, “the Trumps have held hands multiple times during their foreign travels this week, including minutes later on the tarmac.”
Marie Claire magazine decided that “speculation around Donald Trump and Melania Trump’s marriage is about to get a whole lot more intense.”
Vanity Fair was quick to comply, offering that as far as the trip was concerned, “the most viral evidence suggests things aren’t going so great.”
To be clear, this isn’t just a rebuke of the so-called liberal media. Conservative outlets like the Washington Examiner, the Blaze and IJReview also gave the incident outsized attention.
Yes, this is partly just the frenzied pursuit of clicks, to which no news outlet is immune. A viral video might attract eyeballs, and therefore advertisers.
But there’s too much at stake to leave it there.
Partly because we’re hungry for it, and partly because that’s what we’ve been fed, millions of us are conditioned to obsess over totally meaningless episodes revealing nothing in particular about the most gossipy matter imaginable.
And then we wonder why middle America feels like the media is out of touch.
Maybe the president and his wife had just had an argument. Maybe she thought protocol required no hand-holding. Maybe it was hot and his hand was sweaty. Who knows, but more importantly, who cares?
One can perhaps forgive entertainment outlets like People, but when serious media outlets ask you to believe their reporting that, say, Trump may have obstructed justice, or that Russia interfered with our elections, and then they give inordinate attention to a ridiculous and inconsequential moment meant solely to embarrass the President and his family, they shouldn’t be surprised when an already distrusting public says no.
The cries of “fake news” among Trump supporters aren’t fair or honest. But it would be accurate to call stories like this one “not news.” And given enough time and attention, the public won’t see any difference between the two.
Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com.