The mainstream media has virtually anointed Donald Trump the GOP nominee. The media heralds the endorsement by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a stunning blow to competitors (all of whom bested Christie in one or more primaries) rather than a pathetic play for attention from a wounded, insecure pol. With a tiny fraction of the GOP delegates awarded, the media has already called the race — and faults the GOP for giving the nomination to Trump. Notice how quickly his pummeling at the debate on Thursday became “But it’s too late” in media coverage.
Some conservatives speculate that this is what the MSM wanted all along — a proto-fascist nominee who would destroy the GOP. But there are many pundits who are simply stuck in an old paradigm. If past nominees won three of the four early states, they figure, then the winner of three of this year’s four early races must inevitably be the nominee as well. Just as they were blindsided by Trump’s staying power, they are blind to the speed by which a mob can turn on it idol.
There are certainly those in the media who are milking the Trump phenomenon for ratings or their own personal advancement. There is no excuse for the daily fawning, the softball tossing and the helpful attacks on opponents that “Morning Joe” provides for Trump. While NBC News dutifully reports (albeit far too late) on Trump’s Polish labor scandals, the morning duo undermines the integrity of the news operation. They’d rather help Trump needle his opponents than ask hard, provocative questions when they give him one interview after another. Ratings are a tempting thing, but adults at NBC need to step in for the sake of their news “brand.”
Then there is the inexcusable open-mic night (and day) other cable news networks afford to Trump. One rally after another is covered live, for one candidate — Trump. (Finally, on Saturday Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) received similar coverage.) After a debate this week in which Trump got nearly twice the time afforded to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), CNN felt compelled to put Trump on not once but twice for slobbering interviews by Chris Cuomo. Again, this sort of wink-wink-we’ll-play-along-with-Trump-so-you’ll-watch-us game undermines the work of diligent news people such as Dana Bash and Jake Tapper, who do ask hard questions and do press for answers.
And do not even get me started on the spectacularly obsequious “interviews” Sean Hannity provides Trump on Fox News. Thankfully there is Megyn Kelly, who has done more to stand up to Trump, revealing his deep-seated misogyny in the process, than entire news outlets.
And still one wonders why it took Rubio’s attack on Trump before mainstream news outlets began serious coverage of Trump University or Trump’s labor scandals. Surely, these and other business dealings — Where are the victims of the casino bankruptcies? The vendors chiseled by Trump? — could have been investigated by now. The media does have an independent obligation to investigate the candidates, irrespective of what Trump’s opponents are doing. It is false to say the Trump U issue just “surfaced“; it was known before but not covered seriously until now. Compare the serious Trump coverage with the thousands of words spent probing Wasilla, Alaska, local politics or Mitt Romney’s high school antics. There is no comparison.
There is a passivity and herd mentality simply to follow events and the “story of the day” — and then declare things a fait accompli. Trump has played the media by giving it plenty to gawk at, and the media has played along far too often and too willingly.
This, needless to say, is independent of the negligence of many on the right in failing to take Trump down early. The sloth and cluelessness of GOP insiders in recognizing Trump’s threat constitute political malpractice. The former head of Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise super PAC brags that it spent $9.5 million attacking Trump; it raised more than $110 million. There is no forgetting the months during which Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) literally and figuratively embraced Trump, snuggled up to Trump at his offices and defended him against criticism. Unbelievably, Ohio Gov. John Kasich — presumably in search of a VP spot — will not even now criticize Trump. No, there is plenty of blame among Trump’s opponents and the Republican National Committee, which was so frightened of a third-party run it refused to defend the values of the party. They and Trump supporters will ultimately be to blame if Trump gets the nomination and wrecks the party.
And we should not forget the talk show hate-mongers who defended Trump, rationalized his mass deportation schemes and gave him additional free media. (Credit, however, goes to early critics of Trump including former Texas governor Rick Perry and sane conservative talk show voices including Michael Medved.)
The difference is that Republican candidates and the RNC, in laying down arms against Trump, were misguided and incompetent, not rooting for Trump. They figured Trump would fade. It was a self-interested gamble and an exercise in conflict avoidance (Trump will go nuts!) born of political cowardice. But the media is not supposed to engage in such calculations; it has a separate obligation to cover more than yet another Trump rally, but to probe diligently his record, just as it has been compelled to do with regard to Hillary Clinton. Trump’s narrative should not control what the media covers any more than Clinton’s narrative.
The good news is that the newest media consensus is wrong: Trump’s nomination is not certain. (And even if it were — especially if it were — the media would still be obliged to cover Trump’s unseemly dealings.) The media can restore appropriate balance, first, by knocking off the “too late” mantra (which coincidentally is precisely what Trump is saying), and second, by starting to cover not what Trump wants covered, but what he does not want covered. Over the last few days many news outlets have begun to do just that. Perhaps voters will pay attention.