I can't handle much cable TV news these days, and I rarely see any outside of a public setting. Walking past one of the many flat panels in the gym last evening I caught about three minutes of CNN, bringing my total number of CNN-watching minutes in 2016 to approximately five, plus or minus three.
The network was doing what it and every other network have been doing and will continue to do all year: "analyzing" the election. You know the drill. Very Serious People giving the Beltway Consensus take on why this or that happened, who said what, what it all means, and a bunch of nonsense pronouncements about non-events that will be forgotten as soon as others crop up tomorrow to replace them. The pro-Trump pundit was unknown to me, some D-list Howard Kurtz wannabe who bore an uncanny resemblance to a younger, less physically fit Paul Blart. Everyone played their parts well. He said some stuff. The CNN anchor nodded, listening intently. The other pundits waited their turn to say something insipid. The exchange got "spirited," culminating in that throbbing pulse of healthy political discourse that is Crosstalk.
It looked and felt…strained. Everything about it was familiar, both to me as the viewer and to everyone involved directly. Hell, the script hardly changes except for the candidates' names from election to election. This time, however, it really feels like someone is going to snap. One of these people will go full Howard Beale. It's only May and their professional demeanor as a group is already strained to breaking with the thought, "Are we really going to sit here and pretend that we're taking Donald Trump seriously?" That flower of suppressed rage might not bloom until later this year, but – perhaps this is only wishful thinking on my part – it seems ready to happen eventually.
We got close in 2008 when CNN's Jack Cafferty had a moment of brutal honesty about Sarah Palin while seated directly next to Wolf Blitzer, who played the Very Serious Person role to the hilt and got a withering "Don't make excuses for her" for his efforts. "I'm 65 and this is one of the most pathetic pieces of tape I have ever seen" is about as honest as you're likely to hear anyone get in mainstream TV news.
The Trump people are right about one thing: despite the media's ratings-driven infatuation with Trump, not a single news outlet including Fox News is pulling for him. Murdoch & Co. may come around in the long run, but regardless we can already see the strain this is putting on the veneer of Both Sides Do It mainstream Beltway journalism. This unspoken sense of, "Really? We have to pretend this isn't totally idiotic and insane? Are you serious, people?" is the undercurrent to the transition from primary to general election storylines. Nobody wants to say it. Maybe nobody will say it. Plenty will rush to heap insults on him after he loses. Hopefully someone has the courage to do it before that. The odds may not be great, but they're greater now than at any point in my lifetime that somebody is going to lose it on camera when the thought of furrowing their brow and pensively discussing the merits of an asshole reality TV mannequin who once wrestled Vince McMahon and has no issue positions of any kind overwhelms them. Everyone has a breaking point, even the blow-dried careerists who pass for journalists these days.