Trump transformed news into a ratings Krakatoa, combining the side-against-side drama of sports programming with the amphetamine urgency of breaking news.
Moreover, the Democratic Party’s response to Trump — which involved multiple efforts to remove him, premised on the idea that every day he spent in the Oval Office was an existential threat to humanity — allowed stations to turn every day of the Trump years into a baby-down-a-well story (the baby was democracy). Between the Mueller investigation, two impeachments, the Kavanaugh confirmation, multiple border crises, the “Treason in Helsinki” fiasco, and a hundred other tales, every day could be pitched as a drop-everything emergency.
Add the partisan rooting angle, and you had ratings gold. Imagine three or four dozen Super Bowls a year, each one played in the middle of a category 5 hurricane, and you come close to grasping the magnitude of the gift that Donald Trump was to MSNBC, Fox, and CNN.
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