New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof confessed something recently: He and the rest of the media helped to create and enable Donald Trump -- and he's sorry.
Wrote Kristof in a column headlined "My Shared Shame: The Media Helped Make Trump":
It’s not that we shouldn’t have covered Trump’s craziness, but that we should have aggressively provided context in the form of fact checks and robust examination of policy proposals. A candidate claiming that his business acumen will enable him to manage America deserved much more scrutiny of his bankruptcies and mediocre investing.
Kristof is, of course, entitled to his opinion about how Trump has been covered. But I am entitled to say that his view isn't borne out by the facts.
Here are just a few of those facts:
1. The Washington Post's Fact Checker has fact-checked Donald Trump more than any other candidate in the presidential race. And it has awarded him more "Four Pinocchios" than any other candidate in the race. You can read them all here.
3. The Post did in-depth investigative work on Trump's D.C. hotel, Trump University and his claims on how easy it would be to build a wall.
And that's just in The Washington Post!
As for Kristof's contention that the reason for the lack of fact checking (not true) was "we wrongly treated Trump as a farce," there's an element of truth there. But it's not entirely right.
Take my own evolution on Trump. On June 17, 2015, I wrote a piece headlined: "Why no one should take Donald Trump seriously, in one very simple chart." My argument to not take Trump seriously was this: He was 100 percent known by Republican voters, and two-thirds of them, according to credible polling, had an unfavorable opinion of him. Politicians in similar situations never win. Never. Not once.
Somehow over the ensuing three months, Trump turned his image around 180 degrees among Republican voters. Which prompted me to write this piece on Aug. 4 in which I acknowledged I was totally wrong about Trump. From that point forward, I -- and the entire Fix team -- have treated Trump seriously in terms of his potential to win the Republican nomination.
So, sure, there was a farcical element to the coverage of Trump when he first got into the race -- a sort of parody of a political campaign that Trump himself seemed to play into somewhat. (Ever the showman and all that.)
But that lasted for a relatively short period of time. In either late summer or early fall, almost every media organization realized that Trump had tapped into something very real and began to treat him as a serious candidate -- trying to fact-check his claims, dig into his background and understand what was fueling his rise.
That level of coverage, of course, has come in for heavy criticism, too. "You made Trump!" I am told all the time. "You gave him so much 'free' coverage!" And, as Kristof rightly notes in his piece, Trump has received lots and lots more coverage -- particularly on television -- than his Republican opponents or the Democratic candidates.
But SO much of that coverage has been critical of Trump -- raising questions about his claims, covering his various controversies and so on. This tweet from MSNBC's Steve Kornacki captures that idea better than I ever could.
The media totally failed to vet Trump and instead has been providing nothing but fawning, lapdog coverage like this: pic.twitter.com/dkV4XfgY2R
— Steve Kornacki (@SteveKornacki) March 29, 2016
Simply citing the amount of coverage that Trump receives, then, is a bit of a misnomer. And let's even assume that Trump got fawning coverage -- he didn't -- from the media. To blame the media for Trump's rise, you need to believe that conservative Republicans are taking their marching orders from the mainstream media. Um, no. If you've paid any attention to how the Republican candidates talk about the media, you would understand that we are a distrusted and disliked group among the bloc of people that make up Trump's base. If we said the sky was blue, many Trump supporters would insist we were lying to distract from some Hillary Clinton conspiracy.
I think people like Kristof who blame the media for the success of Trump's candidacy are really posing an entirely different question. That question is: Why, in the face of all of the proven falsehoods, casual dismissals of violence, racially coded language and absolutely empty policy proposals is Trump still winning? How can people support this guy's candidacy amid the massive weight of negative information out there about him?
The answer to that is that the people who support Trump don't care how many times he has been awarded four Pinocchios. They don't believe the media. They are convinced -- and Trump does everything he can to push this idea -- that the media is a giant conspiracy aimed at keeping the status quo, which includes the media, in place. So, of course, the media treats Trump the way they do. They're afraid of him and the radical notion of power to the people he represents.
We in the media can fact check Donald Trump to death. We can extensively cover the charges of battery against his campaign manager for his treatment of a reporter. We can write about Trump retweeting white supremacists or unflattering pictures of an opponent's wife.
What we cannot do is make people who support Trump (a) read that work or (b) have it factor into their decision-making processes. That can be frustrating for people who believe that Trump is selling his supporters a bill of goods and, if elected, could be genuinely dangerous as the country's president.
Fair enough. But not really my -- or the media's -- problem. All we can do is cover Trump as we would any other front-running candidate for one of the two major parties' presidential nominations -- since that's what he is. How much or little people pay attention to that coverage and whether it influences them is entirely out of our hands. As it should be.