Reporting on Trump

Trump is doing considerably better in the polls and some critics on the left see that as partly the fault of the media and the belief that being even-handed means criticizing both sides equally. Even when one candidate, despite her faults is a competent public servant and Trump is a white supremacist abomination.

For example, if they’re going to criticize Trump for being a birther, they have to blame Clinton for starting it. Even though she didn’t. And Trump didn’t stop the bullshit when he claims. Or if they’re speculating about Russia interfering with the election, they suggest it might rig the game for Putin’s friend Trump or for Clinton. Or presenting Trump’s admiration for Putin as just a wacky eccentricity. Or consider USA Today headlining an article about Trump’s economic plan by focusin on his claim it will create 25 million jobs rather than the fact it’s a massive tax cut for the rich. Or saying an outright lie is “stretching the truth” (Columbia Journalism Review discusses the reluctance to use the word “lie”). Or responding to a Donald Trump Jr. tweet equating Syrian refugees to poison by mentioning that the Clintons have unpalatable relatives too (no comparable examples provided).

The New York Times insists that it’s totally even-handed in its treatment of Clinton and Trump — why their own Clinton investigative reporter confirmed she was completely fair! LGM disagrees. Echidne points out the assumption that journalists are reporting on the campaign objectively still requires reporters to make judgment calls about what’s worth covering — for example, digging into the Clinton email matter even after the FBI finds nothing to pursue her about. And newspaper stories that do show the depth of Trump’s scheming don’t seem to draw attention from the rest of the media the way the alleged Clinton scandals do (which would again be reporters and editors making judgments about what to pursue). For that matter, Digby argues, Clinton’s agenda doesn’t get attention compared to Trump’s Clinton bashing or Clinton’s alleged scandals.

Vox asks (admittedly not the first to do so) why the media focus so much on angry white men as the important demographic: Trump’s not doing any better with them than Romney did, so why not focus on, say, white women, where Trump’s doing considerably worse? Their conclusion is partly that focusing on economic issues ducks the racial and sexist aspects of Trump’s following; as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ says, white male grievance is always justified. Or as Scott Lemieux says, some reporters can profile failing rust belt cities and not find any blacks or women to speak, only angry white male Trumpites.

The authors at Vox also surprised Trump is held up as the answer to working-class whites’ economic woes when that demographic has consistently done better under Democratic presidents. But that, alas, is normal: Republicans have somehow maintained the image of themselves as the sane fiscal ones even though they’re not (case in point, Pay Ryan’s tax plan delivers more than 99 percent of benefits to the rich).

The left-wing blogs I follow have also speculated that the debates are automatically a win for Trump: as long as he doesn’t totally lose it, the desire to be even-handed will have the press declaring that Trump won simply by not blowing it. This fear isn’t totally crazy: most viewers thought Al Gore won the debates in 2000, but the press asserted George W. Bush was the real winner because everyone expected he’d be crushed and he wasn’t. Victory!

How will this affect things? We’ll know in a couple of months.

 

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