Sep 13, 2018

Trump's historic gift to media

"Fear" by Bob Woodward on a Barnes & Noble shelf. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Aboard Air Force One recently, an aide was showing President Trump detailed data, complete with graphics and fine print. Usually the president prefers top lines and the big picture. This time, he was going deeper. The topic of the commander-in-chief's attention: cable news ratings, with a focus on specific shows that are booming.

The big picture: Cable news is setting records, books are hot again, newspapers are racking up the digital subscriptions and an op-ed (!) is a hot gossip topic — all because of the national obsession with "The Trump Show."

  • Trump and the media, for all his attacks and despite the cultural chasm between them, just can't quit each other.

Throughout the 20 months of the Trump presidency, news executives have been expecting Trump fatigue to eventually set in. Not only is there not a single sign of it, we're experiencing the opposite — a rising Trump fever.

  • Viewers and readers, lovers and haters, are addicted to Trump.

The Trump boom is fueling both old and new media:

  • Not so long after old-school publications fretted about financial survival, digital subscriptions are booming at The New York Times ($99 million in the second quarter, a 20% jump from a year earlier), The Washington Post and The New Yorker — fueled by Trump fascination and extraordinary journalism for historic times.
  • An AP headline after Michael Cohen's plea and Paul Manafort's conviction: "A bad week for Trump means a good week for Rachel Maddow." Typical of the daily ratings entries on TVNewser: MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow was No. 1 on all of cable TV, drawing a solid 3.5 million viewers ... Fox News held steady at No. 1 in total viewers."
  • Simon & Schuster says Bob Woodward's "Fear" sold 750,000 all-format copies (including preorders) on Tuesday — the largest first-day sale for any title in company history. At the Barnes & Noble near Axios HQ, a table full of "Fear" was gone in a day.
  • That follows 2 million in global sales for Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury."
  • The anonymous N.Y. Times op-ed, "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration," has drawn 14.5 million page views and sparked a week-long whodunit.

Be smart: News organizations know they have a Trump bubble — that whenever the 46th president arrives, they could have an audience crash. But they'll worry about that then. For now, they're adding staff and products, to cover the story of a lifetime and to feed an insatiable appetite for Trump.

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The big picture: The fine "is among the largest corporate penalties reached during the Trump administration," the Washington Post reports.