President-elect Donald Trump is making headlines for profiting from his annual New Year’s Eve party. Politico reported over the weekend: “Mar-a-Lago, the private resort in Palm Beach, Florida, sold hundreds of tickets at more than $500 each to an annual New Year’s Eve extravaganza planned for Saturday night that will feature a very special guest: the president-elect of the United States of America and his family.”
Trump owns the members-only luxury resort, which each year sells tickets to the lavish parties it throws on holidays and special occasions, including New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving and Christmas. As a result, the president-elect stands to pocket the profits from the evening’s event.
As MSNBC – one of the more unbiased sources of coverage in connection with this topic – noted, “Ordinarily, there’s nothing especially noteworthy about a Florida resort selling tickets to a New Year’s Eve ‘extravaganza,’ but the circumstances are obviously very different this year. In this case, we’re looking at a dynamic in which the president-elect’s business is, in effect, selling access to the president-elect.”
This has proven an opportunity for widespread media coverage, much of which has centered on Trump “selling access” to himself, an arguably biased statement if we consider that Mar-a-Lago has fetched similar prices in the past and the Trump family has been in attendance each year, making their appearances this year run of the mill. What most publications - save for MSNBC and a small handful of others - have failed entirely to note is that this is, in fact, business as usual. That is a rather crucial bit of information that many readers may not be aware of.
Coverage that lacks such context and merely asserts that this is a conflict of interest is incomplete – at best – and irresponsible – at worst. Moreover, it does little to actually educate or inform readers.
Instead of painting the full picture and coming to a reasoned conclusion (which is, I will note, likely that Trump is furthering a conflict of interest), many publications have opted to highlight the "juiciest" and most controversial facts: That Mar-a-Lago charged a reported minimum of $525 per person, that over 800 guests were expected at the event, and that Trump stands to make more than $420,000 from "dinner, dancing, and access to the incoming President of the United States" (that quote is from Teen Vogue) without providing any balance to them (such as the fact that this is a very ordinary event for the club save for Trump's new president-elect status).
As for whether the Mar-a-Lago party is, in fact, “another example of the president-elect, taking advantage of his elected position to personally profit,” as many sites are asserting – that is certainly a merited inquiry. To be frank, it seems quite likely; Trump and his family have been, after all, coming under fire increasingly for an array of conflicts of interest during the transition period. So, this would not be an unheard of allegation.
However, instead of cherry-picking facts to include in an article about New Year's Eve, a more useful discussion would have arguably centered on why Trump and his team are seemingly indifferent - and even flagrantly unopposed - to the existence of potential conflicts. For instance, Hope Hicks, the incoming White House Director of Strategic Communications, specifically told Politico in connection with the New Year's Eve party, “The transition is not concerned about the appearance of a conflict.” Trump, himself, told the New York Times in November: “[T]he president can’t have a conflict of interest…. [I]n theory, I can be president of the United States and run my business 100 percent…. [T]he president of the United States is allowed to have whatever conflicts he wants.”
In lieu of engaging in a meaningful discussion on how such conflicts and the facilitation of them will shape the political landscape over the next several years and affect the country in the long run, publications have taken to sensationalizing headlines - often without arming readers with the reasoning supporting such allegations. Such practices - which Hillary Clinton was subject to, as well - tend to amount to little more than propaganda aimed at creating click-enticing Tweets and driving traffic. And isn't biased and fake news part of why we are in this predicament in the first place?