Trump’s White House Just Out-Foxed Bill Shine
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Bill Shine, who helped Roger Ailes shape Fox News into a propaganda machine fueled by hype, cynicism and hogwash before joining a presidential administration fueled by hype, cynicism and hogwash, is leaving his post as the White House’s chief communications adviser less than a year into the job.
That short span in President Donald Trump’s warm embrace isn’t of note, really. The White House is essentially an outsized meat grinder, beset by chaos, backstabbing and incompetence and managed by someone who has little interest, and thus a woeful lack of managerial experience, in building strong teams. The practical implications of this are a dearth of expertise, loyalty, productivity and accomplishments — bad for any organization of any stripe.
The Brookings Institution, a liberal Washington think tank, has been tracking what consultants call “turnover” — what the rest of us call “hiring and firing” and what Trump calls “sport” — at the White House. As of March 1, Brookings reports, the turnover rate in the White House is 65 percent among what it describes as Trump’s “A Team” (those who are members of the president’s executive office but aren’t cabinet secretaries). That rate is far above Trump’s Oval Office predecessors. And Shine only had to consider how many people directly preceded him to get a sense of the adventure awaiting him when he signed on last July: Sean Spicer, Michael Dubke, Anthony Scaramucci (“Mooch” lasted 11 days) and Hope Hicks.
As I noted in this space last year, Trump never had a best-and-brightest problem when it came to attracting top-notch talent to his business or his White House. He tends to get wannabes or leftovers, but rarely the truly talented. Another problem, which I flagged after Trump was inaugurated, is that he rarely listens to anyone else’s advice anyway — and that the only White House advisers likely to stay around very long would be his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner. Javanka’s presence meant that it was unlikely that any adviser with a sense of independence would last.
For all of that, Shine’s departure isn’t a surprise. What is compelling about the end of his run is that he came from Fox, and packaging and promoting Trump at the expense of truth, justice and the American way was familiar territory for him. Shine and his Fox team pursued this with real gusto. As Jane Mayer pointed out in the New Yorker this week, Shine was responsible for defining Fox’s brand by overseeing its morning and evening talk shows (Fox’s straight-news operation, populated by many talented, fair-minded people, wasn’t part of his purview). And as Margaret Sullivan, the Washington Post’s media critic, noted this week as well, Shine’s handiwork — Fox’s talk shows — often are fact-free zones that allow the network to essentially function as “Trump TV.”
One would have thought that Shine’s transit from 1211 Avenue of the Americas to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would have amounted to nothing more than a change of address. But the record started skipping once he reached the White House. As my Bloomberg News colleagues Jennifer Jacobs and Jennifer Epstein reported Friday, Trump recently had lost confidence in Shine. They cite Michael Cohen’s devastating congressional testimony last week, and the collapse of Trump’s diplomatic pas de deux with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as reasons for the president’s disenchantment.
In that context, Shine’s downfall offers some lessons. At Fox, Shine had an audience of millions, but at the White House, he had an audience of one sitting in the Oval Office, who, at his core, is a performance artist. Fox can edit, dodge, ignore, gloss and play-act when they put their shows together; the White House has to deal in real time with the material it gets. It can’t really spin Cohen’s testimony or a failed summit. And it can’t always really make everyone (except the already converted) believe that the president who causes a government shutdown, bungles a health-care overhaul, craters fiscal sensibility, dances with Russia, traffics in racism, doesn’t read, doesn’t work hard and doesn’t care is something other than the embodiment of those things.
Shine couldn’t reshape any of those things. No one could, even if they had spent a career thinking they had before going to work for Trump. Trump, certainly no saint, wants hagiography. In the absence of that, the clock is ticking for anyone in charge of White House propagandizing. Trump was on Air Force One, flying out of town, when he slipped his shiv in Shine’s back.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Timothy L. O’Brien is the executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion. He has been an editor and writer for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, HuffPost and Talk magazine. His books include “TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald.”
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