Has the media’s obsession with Donald Trump gone too far?
On the cable news networks, it’s often All Trump, All the Time. That has prompted the media’s critics — who are never in short supply — to question this obsession with the coarse braggart who is leading the Republican presidential race.
Arthur Brooks of the conservative American Enterprise Institute put it this way in an online discussion with New York Times columnist Gail Collins: “Trumpmania is as much a press phenomenon as a popular phenomenon, and supply is in large part creating its own demand.”
To which Collins countered: “The press hardly made him up. In fact speaking on behalf of the political writers of America, I would like to point out that 99% of us totally discounted his candidacy until he started to climb in the polls.”
Some elements of the media blame Trump’s rise on the stupidity of American voters. After Trump won the South Carolina primary, the New York Daily News labeled the state a “Confederacy of Dunces.”
Trump has certainly sucked most of the oxygen out of the room. He’s garnered roughly the same percentages of the vote as Sen. Bernie Sanders, for example, yet Trump gets much more coverage.
So who’s really to blame?
The standard response of media defenders is to say, “Don’t shoot the messenger. We’re just reporting the news.”
But when one weighs the coverage of Trump against what’s been allotted to the over 20 other candidates who were initially in the race, that claim registers high on the BS meter.
“The media covered him like the OJ trial,” Brooks said. “During one window last summer, he was given 78% of the primetime CNN coverage of all the Republican candidates. That was seven times the total airtime for the next closest contender. This amounted to a de facto press blackout on everyone else.”
Republicans like Brooks would no doubt prefer that the media glare fall on someone other than their embarrassing frontrunner.
Trump was just getting warmed up when he charged that Mexicans coming across the border were rapists, and that Sen. John McCain deserved no special notice for his bravery during years as a captive of the North Vietnamese.
Now the litany of Trump’s increasingly odious statements has grown long enough to fill several pages of this newspaper.
But for the media and the most of the American public, a candidate as outrageous and popular as Trump is pure catnip.
The New Yorker won the primary even among supposedly moderate Republican voters in Vermont.
Retired Middlebury College Professor Eric Davis, a regular contributor in this space, is the Vermont’s media go-to guy for political analysis. I asked Davis what he made of the media’s role.
“One needs to distinguish between various types of media,” he said, calling TV news “among Trump’s enablers. Their emphasis on horse-race coverage and celebrities plays right into Trump’s style. He has milked some of these media organizations for all they are worth, using the same techniques as on his reality TV shows.”
The networks have reached the point where they openly acknowledge their complicity. As Les Moonves of CBS said of the Trump campaign, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS… The money’s rolling in and this is fun … Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”
At least we can give Moonves points for honesty.
Davis credits the nation’s major newspapers with “more analytical and critical coverage of Trump.” He notes that some GOP-friendly columnists, such as George Will and David Brooks, have made the case against the candidate.
Indeed, Trumps’ right-wing critics are among the most persuasive. “Some of the most perceptive coverage questioning Trump — in terms of both his suitability to be president and his issue positions — has been in conservative opinion magazines such as The Weekly Standard, Commentary, and National Review,” Davis said.
Angelo Lynn, editor and publisher of this paper, puts part of the blame on the GOP itself, “a party that has become based on raucous sloganeering.”
He adds that “Trump is a showman and he has dominated the debates in minutes talked, in antics, in entertainment value, and, ultimately, in the polls.”
As of this writing, Trump still seems well positioned to get the GOP nomination.
But he’s come under withering fire in the past couple of weeks from what’s left of the Republican establishment.
The party’s base worries that he’s not conservative enough. His increasingly ugly, authoritarian manner has offended even political operatives who are usually happy to do whatever it takes to get elected.
The irony is that after months of tolerating and often even enjoying Trump’s dangerous antics, both the party and the media are now turning against him.
His shabby business dealings, his “I’d like to punch him in the face” response to a protester, the smearing of law-abiding immigrants, the cozying up to racists and inflaming anti-Muslim sentiment – all that is now dominating the news about Trump.
The newly critical coverage is beginning to take its toll – making it somewhat harder for Trump to ultimately prevail.
It reminds me of an old adage: “Live by the sword, die by the sword.”