We constantly talk about the news media’s failure to aggressively call out President Trump’s serial lies. We talk somewhat less often about the media’s failure to adequately convey just how deeply corrupt and absurd Trump’s explicitly stated positions really are (a somewhat lonely obsession of this blog).

But there’s a third way in which Trump challenges the media that generates far less attention than either of those: the ways in which the conventions of political reporting often constrain reporters from conveying just how crazy, depraved and saturated in malice and hate some of his rally performances are.

Vox’s Aaron Rupar has a fascinating but deeply dispiriting look at one such example. After Trump’s rally in Wisconsin on Tuesday night, an NPR segment basically sanitized away all of the wretchedness and insanity.

As Rupar notes, at the rally, Trump delivered on those qualities in a big way:

Trump bragged about war crimes. He joked about former Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson perhaps being in hell and about his possibly serving more than two terms in office. He said he’d like to see Hillary Clinton locked up and trashed “filthy, dirty” blue cities like San Francisco in a manner that’s highly unusual for a president.

NPR ran this brief report from a journalist at a local member station:

President Trump addressed thousands of his supporters in Milwaukee on his quest for a second term. He snapped back at Democrats for bringing impeachment proceedings, repeated a debunked claim that Mexico would be paying for a wall, and defended the fatal drone strike of an Iranian commander. Trump was taking on Democrats in their own territory, ahead of their national convention there this summer.

In reality, Trump didn’t merely “snap back” against Democrats who impeached him; he ranted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district is “filthy” and “disgusting,” heaping malice on a place where people — urban, coastal people, but people nonetheless — actually live.

Trump didn’t merely “take on” Democrats; he called for Hillary Clinton to be imprisoned while encouraging the crowd’s “lock her up” chants. Trump didn’t merely “defend” the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani; he boasted of plans to hit back against any Iranian attacks with an insane threat to obliterate so much of Iran that it would have “taken 30 years to rebuild, if that was even possible,” which drew cheers.

The problem, of course, is that any report that neutrally but accurately rendered all of this would probably come across as negatively slanted, which is a no-no. But as Georgetown professor Don Moynihan pointed out, such omissions of the “insane stuff” end up presenting Trump “as a normal president,” which is fundamentally and grotesquely misleading.

I would like to suggest one way this could have real political consequences.

To be clear, I don’t mean to pick on this one report. Nor do I claim to have any sense of how widespread a problem this is or how much political impact it might have.

Rather, I want to use this moment to plant a flag on something to watch for going forward.

It is well-understood that barring an unexpected surge in success or popularity, or a Democratic implosion, Trump’s reelection chances will probably hinge on his ability to squeak out an electoral college victory by hanging on to one or two states in the industrial Midwest — like Wisconsin — while losing the popular vote, potentially by even more this time.

Given how badly damaged Trump appears among educated, suburban white voters — especially women — doing this will probably turn on his ability to absolutely electrify turnout, and activate non-regular voters, in places like rural and exurban Wisconsin.

We do not know how deep those pools of voters are for Trump. This is the x-factor that Democrats readily acknowledge that they fear, the one that could help him win again.

These rally performances are all about achieving that electrification. The need to do this is why he paints the opposition as illegitimate, works to deceive those parts of the country into believing his impeachment is an effort to overturn their electoral will, rages at Rep. Adam B. Schiff and his “pencil neck,” slimes urban districts as being infested with rodents and so forth.

Yes, Trump also boasts about his (absurdly overhyped) accomplishments for the same reason, but that’s plainly not as important to this electrification effort as all those other things are. Whether or not those things actually energize those voters in large numbers, Trump plainly believes they do.

One key question is whether Trump can supercharge those parts of the country with such tactics without activating a backlash — among young and nonwhite voters, and among the sort of suburban and educated whites who remain alienated by Trump — that overwhelms the numbers in even hyper-energized Trump country. This plainly worries Trump’s advisers, who know the base might not be enough.

Press coverage that sanitizes away the wretched, hateful sides of Trump’s performances could help his appearances carry forward Trump’s mission of electrifying the base, under the radar, without clearly conveying to all those other voters — those who may not be tuning in as attentively to the 24/7 manure show that is this presidency — the truly depraved nature of what he’s dumping in their backyards.

Again, I don’t claim to know how serious a problem this is or how much of an impact it will have. But it seems like something those who aspire to render this moment faithfully would not want any part in enabling.


Update: NPR’s Steve Inskeep objects, saying this snippet was a mere news brief that does not reflect NPR’s broader rally coverage, and another NPR employee is pointing people to this longer NPR treatment of another Trump rally, which does feature a bit more of Trump’s ugliness. My intent here was to flag a broader problem that plainly does exist, and absolutely could have serious consequences going forward that we should all take seriously.

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