James Poniewozik: How the Trump Show Happened


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Sep 27 2019 34 mins   21

As regular listeners of this podcast know, I read a lot of books. Most of them, frankly, are excellent – smart people making thoughtful arguments in engaging ways.

Every once in a while, though, I read one that’s not just excellent, but delivers something more: It shifts your lens on the world. Alters your focus.

New York Times Chief Television Critic James Poniewozik has written that kind of book: “Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America.” He’s written that kind of book not despite the fact that he analyzes television and American culture for a living… but because of it.

We know Trump loves TV. We know built his image through the NY media and that he was a reality TV star. We also know reality TV is hardly reality.

What we may not have considered sufficiently is what has happened to us – how, as television and media changed over the last decades, so did we. And to put it bluntly: You might not like what we’ve become – or what’s required, virtually 24/7, to capture our attention.

This book and conversation are part history, part current events, and all-important.

As Poniewozik writes: “Follow the media culture of America over the course of Trump’s career, and you will understand better how Trump happened. Follow how Trump happened and you will understand better what we became.” And you may wonder – as I asked Poniewozik – whether any potential Democratic candidate understands any of this well enough to beat Trump.

One note: I spoke with James before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the official Impeachment Inquiry of Donald Trump. But already, in the early days, I see evidence of what James writes about at play in the way Trump and his team are responding.

For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com.