I was trying to think of someone who in recent weeks has gotten worse press than Ron DeSantis.
The piling on the Florida governor has gotten so bad that not a day goes by without him being pummeled by the pundits. This is all the more striking because DeSantis was previously held up as the man who could trounce Donald Trump and take the Republican Party in a new direction – an avatar of Trumpism without the baggage.
Now that post-indictment Trump has surged in the polls and DeSantis has been sliding, the geniuses of the fourth estate are treating him like a piñata – despite the fact that he hasn’t entered the race.
I have been arguing for some time that DeSantis needs to punch back at the increasingly rough attacks by the former president. He has largely sidestepped or deflected these assaults, and is very much running the risk of being defined by Trump.
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While DeSantis won’t declare his candidacy until the Florida legislature finishes its session, the fact is Trump has drawn him into the presidential race. In the social media era, you no longer have the luxury of deciding when to become an official candidate. DeSantis has also made some missteps, but while he loves to slam the media, the 180 flip to negativity is amplifying and exaggerating his weaknesses.
Just over the weekend, two liberal female columnists for the New York Times ripped Ron:
“DeSantis is making the mistake of believing that the primary race is about issues, while Trump instinctively understands that it’s about dominance,” says Michelle Goldberg.
Turning the other cheek “didn’t work in 2016 and it’s not working now. Witness the parade of Florida Republicans turning their back on DeSantis and bending the knee to Trump with their endorsements.”
Maureen Dowd writes: “DeSantis seems mean, punching out at Mickey Mouse, immigrants, gays and women; pushing through an expansion of his proposal to ban school discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity to include all grades, as well as a draconian ban on abortion after six weeks. He even admonished some high school kids during the pandemic for wearing masks.” Not a fan.
But I have, after deep contemplation, come up with someone who’s getting hammered more aggressively than DeSantis, perhaps because he transcends politics.
His name is Elon Musk.
Now the sometimes-world’s richest man has always made news, given that he also owns Tesla, SpaceX and other companies. But ever since he set his heart on buying Twitter, he has been consistently trashed by the left-leaning media, which consider him an increasingly extreme right-winger. (Never mind that he just admitted voting for Joe Biden.)
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So the longstanding problems of Twitter – some of which have gotten worse as he’s laid off 80% of the staff – have provided fodder for Musk’s media antagonists. He has made things worse with some erratic moves and petty fights, such as denigrating the Times and NPR.
And he has stripped hundreds of thousands of users (including me) of their blue checkmarks, ticking them off as what was intended to be a verification process morphed into an elite status symbol – for which users now have to pay an $8 monthly subscription fee.
Musk removed the blue symbols from lots of big-name pundits, along with the likes of Pope Francis and Paul McCartney. Weirdly, Musk tweeted he is personally paying the fee for LeBron James, William Shatner and a few other celebrities. (What, LeBron can’t afford to pay?) At the same time, accounts sprung up featuring dead celebrities, making clear the process ain’t working perfectly.
Politico writer Jack Shafer blames the press for overcovering what he calls the “vapor trail of broken Musk promises and failed predictions…
“He’s knocked a U.S. senator with a vulgar tweet, called a Thai cave rescuer a ‘pedo guy,’ ridiculed Bill Gates’ beer belly and mocked a disabled Twitter employee…
“This unbroken stream of Musk blarney and BS should be enough to deter the press from automatically reporting the tycoon’s publicity hounding.” Except that Musk’s tweets – artificially boosted by an algorithm – are outrageous, funny, inflammatory, aggravating – filling the void left by Trump.
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Shafer said: “Reporters on the Musk beat have a point when they say you never know which one of Musk’s outrageous stabs at grabbing attention will actually blossom into genuine news. He’ll do anything to keep it and himself in the news, and every day the news media rewards his showboating with an avalanche of running coverage and commentary.” Guilty as charged.
In the Atlantic, Charlie Warzel says Musk’s transformation of the site – filled with “culture-war drivel” – “is to witness the platform working at its purest, basest level. Forget offensive; his behavior is cringe. It shows us what has always existed deep down in Twitter’s molten core, an elemental feeling shared by the platform’s most ardent users and that powers much of social media: shame.”
Well, I’m not ashamed, even though Twitter can sometimes be a sewer. The app also has its upside, serving up breaking news and conversations about everything from policy issues to media to cute dog videos.
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Now I think Musk’s bad press edges out DeSantis’ bad press, but maybe you disagree. Perhaps you’ll decide to tweet about it.