We wrote in August about how Donald Trump has a knack for diverting attention away from Hillary Clinton's bad headlines and onto his own. Two months later, we are in the midst of the best example to date: The Washington Post's publication of taped conversation in which Trump boasts about kissing and groping women — and getting away with it because his a "star" — has almost completely overshadowed WikiLeaks' publication of partial transcripts from Clinton's speeches to banking firms.
Obtaining the transcripts was no minor scoop. During the Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders often attacked Clinton for her ties to Wall Street and called on her to release the text of what she told Goldman Sachs audiences behind closed doors during three speeches for which she was paid a total of $675,000. Clinton refused, which only generated more interest in what she said, and she struggled to explain why she took so much money from Goldman and why she made the speeches in the first place.
In one speech, Clinton said her "dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders." The "open borders" line is a potential vulnerability against a candidate who has made securing American borders a centerpiece of his campaign. Clinton also said "the people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry," seemingly suggesting that bankers ought to regulate themselves.
But Trump will have a harder time launching effective attacks on these points than he would have if the media were not rightfully fixated on his own private remarks — remarks like "grab them by the p---y. You can do anything." Once again, Trump is giving Clinton cover at a time when she might otherwise be on the defensive.
The original post follows.
This was a lousy media week for Hillary Clinton — or, at least, it could have been.
The Washington Post led Monday's newspaper with a tough look at her economic record as a U.S. senator from New York, finding that she failed to make good on a campaign promise to create 200,000 jobs upstate. The Post's Jerry Markon wrote that "despite Clinton's efforts, upstate job growth stagnated overall during her tenure, with manufacturing jobs plunging nearly 25 percent, according to jobs data."
A new batch of State Department emails indicated some Clinton Foundation donors received special access to the department while Clinton was secretary of state.
And as yet another week passed without a news conference, journalists continued to chide the Democratic presidential nominee for her lack of accessibility. Politico's Hadas Gold reported Friday on the Clinton campaign's unwillingness to allow what is known as a "protective press pool," which, as Gold explained, "would cover the candidate's every move and ride on the campaign plane in the same way the White House press pool does and which typically begins when the candidate becomes the party's official nominee." (The Trump campaign also has no such pool.)
But these Clinton stories were largely overshadowed by Donald Trump's latest antics — his assertion that President Obama is the "founder of ISIS" and his suggestion that if Clinton wins the election, "Second Amendment people" could "maybe" do something about her and her judicial appointments.
Trump boosters such as Rudy Giuliani see the media's heavy focus on the billionaire's rhetoric as evidence of bias. But even some Republicans seem to think the Trump is doing Clinton a favor — shielding her from scrutiny by making totally-bananas comments.
Politico reported Thursday that more than 70 Republicans signed a letter urging Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus to cut off funding for Trump and put those dollars behind down-ballot candidates. The signers were motivated partly by principle and partly by practical assessments of his self-inflicted damage.
"We believe that Donald Trump's divisiveness, recklessness, incompetence, and record-breaking unpopularity risk turning this election into a Democratic landslide, and only the immediate shift of all available RNC resources to vulnerable Senate and House races will prevent the GOP from drowning with a Trump-emblazoned anchor around its neck," they wrote. "This should not be a difficult decision, as Donald Trump's chances of being elected president are evaporating by the day."
Trump's behavior has been so erratic lately that publications including the Hill, Esquire, Gawker, the Week, Salon and the Indianapolis Star have published articles taking semi-seriously the idea that the real estate mogul could be sabotaging his campaign on purpose. Joe Scarborough, the former GOP congressman and "Morning Joe" host who was once considered too cozy with Trump, recently remarked that "it's as if he's trying to blow himself up."
David Axelrod, a Democrat but an admirer of Trump's political savvy early in the campaign, said last week on CNN that "if Donald Trump were trying to lose this election — and I'm not saying he is — but if he were, I'm not sure he'd behave any differently than he has in the last few days."
Trump is all about #winning — that's kinda his brand — so it seems unlikely that he really wants to throw the race. But what all these media commentaries reflect is a sense that Trump couldn't do a better job of drawing journalists' fire away from Clinton if he tried.
It's an exaggeration to say, as some Trump backers do, that Clinton is getting a free pass from the press. This week's headlines show once again that she is hardly immune to critical coverage. But it is true that she benefits from Trump's habit of taking the spotlight off her.
If he ever cleans up his act, Clinton could be in for a rude awakening.