“Plunging.” That’s how the Washington-based news site Axios recently described the readership numbers of American media companies since Donald Trump left the White House in January, noting how “publishers that rely on partisan, ideological warfare have taken an especially big hit.” This outcome fulfills a prophecy by the former president—who once said, “Newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there”—and reinforces how much the U.S. news business actually benefited from Trump, even as he attacked the press as the “enemy of the people” and journalists took an adversarial approach to covering him. What does this all mean about the U.S. political media and its relationship to audiences of politically engaged citizens?

Ben Dreyfuss, the author of the newsletter Good Faith and the former editorial director at the progressive American magazine Mother Jones, says America is emerging from half a decade of toxic addiction to political news—an addiction Dreyfuss sees himself as having helped to stoke by, in his words, “getting people hooked on politics.” According to Dreyfuss, many journalists began to behave more like activists during this period and many publications increasingly played to their ideological bases. As much as the era yielded extraordinary journalism under unprecedented circumstances, he argues, the media also exacerbated political conflict and division, fed misunderstanding between Democrats and Republicans, and generally left its audience deeply stressed out.

Graham Vyse: What do you make of the decline in U.S. media readership and ratings since Trump left office?

Ben Dreyfuss: On the one hand, we all should have seen it coming. Trump had occupied this place in American minds since 2015—since he came down that escalator to announce his campaign. Everyone already following politics started following it more. Mainstream audiences that had never read magazines like Mother Jones or followed politics in any way were watching this carnival barker. He activated a huge number of people across the political spectrum, and many were addicted to him until he was de-platformed [from Twitter and Facebook, earlier this year].

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