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Trump’s First 100 Days Marked by Big Changes for Media (Analysis)

Variety logo Variety 4/24/2017 Ted Johnson
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As President Trump approaches his 100th day in office on April 29, he’s already predicting how he thinks the media will measure him.

“No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days & it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!,” he huffed in a tweet on Friday morning.

He’s probably right — the more critical examinations of his first 100 days, an arbitrary number, will focus on the paucity of accomplishments, along with poll numbers and a slew of still unfilled positions in the federal bureaucracy.

He is to blame on many fronts, for the high expectations his campaign set: Obamacare was to have been repealed and replaced by now, the border wall would be fully funded and bigly middle class tax would be on the way.

But there is one area where Trump has racked up accomplishments, to his direct and indirect credit, by design and by chance. That is the media.

The Trump-era FCC has made a series of policy reversals that stand to accelerate mergers and acquisitions, particularly among major station groups.

Most recently, FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who Trump appointed to lead the commission, led a move to reinstate a rule that allowed companies to “discount” how they calculate their station reach, so that they remain under a 39% of the country media ownership cap. There’s more to come: Later this year, Pai has promised to take a look at raising that cap.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, in her dissent, said that the move “just wrapped up and put a bow on a huge gift for those large broadcasters, with ambitious dreams of more consolidation,” while broadcasters see the need to bulk up as a way of better competing against ever bigger players in cable, telecom and the internet.

The FCC also declined to take a look at the proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner, a deal that would have almost surely prompted Pai’s predecessor to find a way to chime in on such a massive change in the media landscape.

That will leave only the Department of Justice to examine the transaction, and there, too, he picked someone who has been favorable to a giving the deal a green light. For the role of antitrust chief, Trump nominated Makan Delrahim, a former Justice Department lawyer who last year said that he didn’t see a major problem with the AT&T-Time Warner merger.

Trump did have a problem — and that is why it will be fascinating to see where the DOJ lands on the transaction.

During the presidential campaign, Trump said he would block the merger — probably because Time Warner includes his much detested CNN — and he even said that the reasons for his opposition was that it was “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”

That is music to the ears of many public interest groups that have long warned of consolidation of the media into giant conglomerates, but Trump’s rhetoric on the deal has faded since Election Day.

Trump also signed a bill that reversed a set of privacy rules for internet providers, passed by the FCC last year. That may be just a prelude of plans to repeal, via the FCC or Congress, the current design of net neutrality rules, posing huge implications for the future of online streaming and broadband in general.

It’s not just in policy where we’ve seen change in the media landscape.

As the Trump administration approached, media organizations like CNN and The New York Times announced plans to boost their investments in investigative journalism. News personalities like Jake Tapper and Scott Pelley have called out Trump, getting beyond the point/counterpoint to call a spade a spade.

We’ve also seen the departure of Bill O’Reilly from Fox News, star of the conservative right undone by the pressure of public furor and the squeamishness of advertisers. Even with media outlets that prided themselves for their pugnaciousness in the face of protest and other outside pressure, it showed that they too had a limit to how much they would put up with. In just one weekend, a figure of the alt-right, Milo Yiannopoulos, resigned from Breitbart, lost a book deal and was nixed from the Conservative Political Action Conference amid furor over comments he made about pedophilia.

This weekend’s White House Correspondents Association dinner, a surreal mix of Hollywood celebrity, branded news personalities and D.C. policymakers, looks to be a much more subdued affair this year, with the organization itself determined to make it a night in celebration of journalism scholarship, awards and the First Amendment.

You can be be guaranteed that it would have been much more of a circus had Trump been willing to attend. Instead, Trump is planning a rally Pennsylvania on the same night as the dinner, a counter to an event where typically many of the jokes are at the president’s expense.

Most of all, though, Trump has helped keep the media engines running, churning out what seems to be an unending stream of headlines, comments, and pronouncements that have kept journalists on their toes, it seems, 24/7. There’s no doubt it has been good for audience shares and page views, although it’s almost predictable that the next 100 days will see a spring of stories of Trump burnout.

So when it comes to the media — by policy or in the profession — Trump has triggered a change. Perhaps he’s even met the “ridiculous standard” of the first 100 days, through deregulation, personal resentment and journalistic self-reflection. It may not be what he promised — or even what was expected.

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