When I was a kid, the ability to get a joke, understand sarcasm, or know when one is being baited, was considered a sign of intellect. People that didn’t understand they were being manipulated or being made fun of were pitiable creatures, often ostracized and challenged in the friend-making or dating arenas.
Nothing much changes with adulthood, except adults tend to be slightly less vicious by laughing behind your back and keeping that get-together a secret instead of in your face and openly relegating you to the empty lunch table.
I don’t think my experience is unique, which makes the general media’s inability to understand when Trump — and whoever manages his social media accounts — is messing with them astonishing, especially for an industry that requires the employment of smart people to function well.
And yet time and again, the press fails to get the joke — which, more often than not lately, they’re the butt of. (I have a theory about why they can’t grasp the obvious, and I’ll try to answer it at the end.)
The latest is the confusion from places like The Washington Post and the New York Post over Trump tweeting a “doctored” photo of himself as Rocky Balboa.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2019
It looked initially like the Washington Post may have been on to the game since the story they linked in their tweet announcing the “doctored” photo went to a live update of the impeachment inquiry.
Trump tweets doctored photo of his head on Sylvester Stallone’s body, unclear why https://t.co/WQwG5tSXtZ
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) November 27, 2019
But Trump’s campaign account still zinged them pretty good with a nod to their lack of “evidence” that the photo was doctored (given the press’ use of anonymous sources and tendency to parrot unsupported Democrat talking points throughout the Russia collusion affair, this was a pretty decent troll).
— Team Trump (Text TRUMP to 88022) (@TeamTrump) November 27, 2019
As mentioned, it looked like maybe WaPo fought back a little by linking to an impeachment story while making it look like they were taking the bait. But then they went and published this silliness as a piece of serious journalism.
Big-and-strong Trump is what you see in those memes of Trump body-slamming CNN in a wrestling ring. (Trump once said that a politician who body-slammed a reporter in real life was “my kind of guy.”) And as much as Swole Trump is a pro-Trump Internet thing, the tendency to valorize leaders for their physical strength is often reinforced by the media broadly.
“This simplistic view of strength, or leadership, is why gender scholars are critical of news coverage that speaks about politics in athletic/sports metaphoric terms,” Conroy says. “It signals that the competition is about something where women tend to be at a disadvantage.”
This kind of lack of self-awareness was ultimately mocked (again) by the Trump campaign account:
*face palm* https://t.co/8yZWH0hHQR
— Team Trump (Text TRUMP to 88022) (@TeamTrump) November 28, 2019
Ok, mocking aside, the media’s tendency to take everything Trump does as if it’s some great insight into the character of the man and the future of the nation is exhausting and pitiable in the same way those kids you remember not understanding they were the butt of the joke was.
I’d like for the media to relax and have a laugh at its expense, but — truthfully, much like it was when I was a kid — their cluelessness is pretty funny as long as no one’s getting hurt.
And if you’ve been wondering why otherwise smart people — and journalists are smart, believe it or not — can’t figure this one out, it’s simple: hubris. Their arrogance won’t let them believe that Trump and his representatives might be smart enough to get one over on them. Just like the kids in school who got straight A’s but were incapable of believing that the dumb jocks were clever enough to bait them.
If journalists want in on the joke, they’re going to need to first recognize there’s a joke afoot; and second, when it comes to Trump, they’re often the butt of it.