How The Media Should Cover Trump

Time for a rare Friday night post from me. Dr. A is out with the girls and I’ve finished my Saturday post so I decided to turn my attention to the vital issue of how the MSM should cover Donald Trump. They have been played at every turn by this racist demagogue but today there are some signs of change in the coverage. I just saw Hallie Jackson report about the Trump birther speech for the NBC Nightly News. She actually used the L word. in describing the speech, as in Trump was LYING about the extent of his birtherism and was not truthful in blaming the birther movement on Hillary Clinton. This is more important than Josh Marshall calling Trump a Stone Cold Liar earlier today. We expect that from TPM, we don’t expect it from NBC home of Andrea Mitchell and Lyin’ Brian Williams.

Another promising indicator of a *possible* change in the MSM attitude towards Trump showed up on my Twitter timeline:

The NYT has been under withering fire for its campaign coverage. If it changes, I think it has something to do with the tightening in the polls. Chuck Todd admitted today that he didn’t think Trump could win before this week and that this would have an impact on the press corps at large. My optimistic side hopes that he’s right. There’s actually general disgust among media types about Trump’s terse statement on birtherism and his refusal to admit any error. But as we all know, the Insult Comedian don’t play that.

There’s a fabulous piece by Brian Beutler at the New Republic about how the campaign coverage can still be salvaged:

Two years ago, James Fallows of The Atlantic—whom I interviewed more recently for a podcast on this very topic—described the “one thing” that unites everyone who reports the news for a living: “It is the fundamental drive that makes us stick with this odd line of work, the usually unspoken but immensely powerful source of pride in what we do. It is summed up by three words: I saw this.

Every day for over a year now, political journalists have fanned out across the country to report on what we’ve seen, and what we’ve discovered is shocking. We’ve seen that Trump is racist, ignorant, and temperamentally unfit for the presidency—but we haven’t just reported that as our impression of the man, because those are the words of Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and other leaders of the Republican Party, which Trump now leads. We’ve seen that.

At a fact-witness level, we’ve seen Trump incite violence at campaign events and seen his supporters assault protesters with near-impunity. We’ve seen him identify individual reporters as specific targets of his ire such that they’ve had to be escorted to safety from his rallies. We’ve seen him attack entire ethnicities and faiths (Latinos, Muslims) along with individual members of those denominations (Judge Gonzalo Curiel, Ghazala Khan) for the crimes of others, or for no crime at all. This only scratches the surface of what we’ve seen.

We’ve also seen Trump campaign staffers and surrogates say he would “pivot” and “soften” over the course of the general election. And we rightly reported as much. But it was a collective choice to stop reporting what we’ve seen and continue to see, and start reporting our impressions of how ably or poorly Trump is clearing the insanely low bar he set for himself. The people who assemble the raw material of this mass reporting project into headlines and front pages and news broadcasts—who see what we see—have rendered the most salient finding largely unrecognizable.

Shorter Beutler: the media should resume reporting what they’ve witnessed and stop pretending Trump is just another candidate instead of an authoritarian crypto-Facist who believes he’s better than the rest of us. The country is being played for mugs as Charlie Pierce pointed out in his wonderfully titled post, The Birtherism of a Nation. 

Donald Trump is NOT an ordinary candidate. All politicians (and people for that matter) lie but few of them lie so incessantly. The truth and Trump are not even passing acquaintances. He is the ultimate unreliable narrator and must be treated as such.

Trump should be covered like David Duke was at his peak during the 1990 Senate race and 1991 Gret Stet Governor’s race. He made the run-off in both instances, which led to his being treated as serious candidate. Whenever he was mentioned by the media it was as “former-KKK Grand Wizard and neo-Nazi” David Duke. There were no niceties about him as a conservative Republican. Donald Trump is running a mendacious, bigoted, fearmongering campaign and he should be called on it as Beutler suggests:

Whether you have a short or long view, you’ve seen enough to say authoritatively that Trump is different from all major party nominees in living memory. It is not normal in modern times for a major party nominee to be an erratic, racist demagogue; and it is almost definitionally abnormal for a major party nominee to be described as such by leading members of his own party.

These are the cardinal facts of this election. They should be the dominant upshot of any significant increment of news coverage and analysis—the thing that reaches and sticks with casual news consumers, in the same way that even musical dilettantes can hum the leitmotif of Beethoven’s fifth symphony.

Whether you have a short or long view, you’ve seen enough to say authoritatively that Trump is different from all major party nominees in living memory. It is not normal in modern times for a major party nominee to be an erratic, racist demagogue; and it is almost definitionally abnormal for a major party nominee to be described as such by leading members of his own party.

These are the cardinal facts of this election. They should be the dominant upshot of any significant increment of news coverage and analysis—the thing that reaches and sticks with casual news consumers, in the same way that even musical dilettantes can hum the leitmotif of Beethoven’s fifth symphony.

<SNIP>

There’s still time to alter our focus, however incrementally, so that it better captures what’s new and alarming, and all journalists have some degree of power to nudge it in that direction. The goal is not to swing an election, or call Trump mean names, or render partisan judgment about whether electing him would be a world-historical mistake. It’s simply so that after this is all over, however it shakes out, we can say we bore witness faithfully.

Trump is not just another Republican. He is a menace who incites his crowds to violence. He is a fundamentally dishonest man who believes the law does not apply to him or his company. The media knows this: they’ve seen it with their own eyes. It’s time for them to start reporting what they’ve seen for themselves.

One more thing, Josh Marshall just posted about *why* he still believes Hillary Clinton will win the election. I quite agree. It might be closer than it should be, but I still believe Donald Trump will not be the first Insult Comedian elected President.

2 thoughts on “How The Media Should Cover Trump

  1. Barbara H Rigney says:

    Great piece – if only the cable outlets would actually cover the facts on the ground and stop making excuses for him, and stop allowing his surrogates to do the same. Conway should not be on every news show every day as she has been. CNN should fire Lewandowski. Or just stop the “surrogate”nonsense altogether, report the facts.

    Like

  2. Seems a current trend – is it lack of empathy? But the press and everyone else (especially GOP sorts) seem unable to grasp insult and hurt UNTIL it happens to them personally. So until Trump vocally assaults enough of the media, they won’t shoot back?

    Like

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