Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Hijacking the media -- Trump shows how easy it is

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
January 3, 2013 -- Updated 1634 GMT (0034 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Howard Kurtz: Donald Trump said the GOP can go nuclear in budget showdown
  • Kurtz: It's remarkable that Trump draw attention no what what he says
  • He says it's so easy to hijack the media in the age of Twitter
  • Kurtz: Journalists like sexy stories but shouldn't lose focus of what's important

Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.

(CNN) -- After a year of national gridlock that ended on the precipice of a cliff, Donald Trump went nuclear.

The man who called Barack Obama's re-election a travesty said Republicans could gain control of the budget showdown because they "are sitting there with a nuclear weapon": the specter of voting against a rise in the debt ceiling in the coming weeks. In other words, the GOP could get its way by again threatening to push the country into default.

The remarkable thing here is not Trump's apocalyptic advice but that the man who still doesn't concede that the president was born in Hawaii draws attention no matter what he says. The colorful businessman has a knack for hijacking the media -- and he's hardly alone.

Watch: Hey Fox, Hillary Clinton was sick after all

Howard Kurtz
Howard Kurtz

In fact, one of the most striking developments in recent years is how easy it is to carry out the hijacking. You don't need a weapon, nuclear or otherwise. You don't have to be a famous zillionaire to pull it off. In the Twitter age, almost anyone can capture the spotlight for 15 seconds.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



We're so easy. If it's new, novel or naughty, we are there.

A critical mass of tweeters hijacked the presidential debates by turning Big Bird and "binders full of women" into trending topics. What, you thought what was most important was what the candidates said during those 90-minute face-offs? Nope, it's just as much about winning the post-game chatter. A single "oops" by Rick Perry enables the press to wipe out everything else that was said.

Watch: Are critics being too harsh on Chelsea Clinton?

Clint Eastwood, telling Obama (in the guise of an empty chair) to perform an anatomically impossible act? That hijacked Mitt Romney's convention.

Eric Fehrnstrom inadvertently hijacked his boss' campaign when he compared Romney's election strategy to an Etch A Sketch. Nothing like a kid's toy to seize the attention of grown-up journalists.

Any invocation of a celebrity has great hijacking potential, even if the story is a sprinkling of fairy dust.

The political press recently surrendered to the notion that Ben Affleck might run for John Kerry's Senate seat in Massachusetts. This was based on nothing more than local chatter, amplified by Politico. Affleck shrewdly kept the door ajar -- such speculation helps in the gravitas department --but on Christmas Eve, he gave the press a lump of coal by admitting he wasn't running.

Watch: Were the media swept away by fiscal cliff madness?

Next the media got excited by the idea that Ted Kennedy Jr. would run for office -- until he quickly popped that trial balloon.

Sometimes the hijacker wants no part of the limelight but is swept along for the ride.

Paula Broadwell was embedded in the nation's consciousness for weeks after her affair with David Petraeus prompted his resignation as CIA director. And her romantic rival, Jill Kelley, became a captive as well.

Racial tension can grab the media's attention like few other issues.

There are more than 15,000 murders annually in the United States, but only a few move beyond local headlines. The killing of Trayvon Martin, initially overlooked even in Florida, became a national sensation once activists persuaded the media that race played a role in the teenager's shooting (a perception deepened by NBC's misleading editing of George Zimmerman's 911 call). Week after week of routine murders in cities such as Chicago barely register on the radar.

WATCH: Forget the Fiscal Cliff—Kim Kardashian Is Pregnant!

Most journalists gravitate toward sensational and sexy stories (and I haven't been immune to the temptation) because we want the clicks and the ratings. And perhaps to alleviate our own boredom with the daily grunt work of reporting. The on-and-off negotiations over the fiscal cliff have been tedious and incremental. Along comes Trump and boom, you've got an easy headline.

The problem with all this media hijacking goes beyond the strange twists and turns along the way. It's that we cede control of what's important.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1615 GMT (0015 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1728 GMT (0128 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT