Democrats who cannot publicly lash out at their flawed nominee for fear of exacerbating the very conditions that have them panicked are taking aim at the next best thing: the press.
For months, frustrated liberals have bemoaned the fact that Donald Trump receives any fair coverage at all. His xenophobic policies and racially toxic rhetoric, they contend, render him beyond the pale. To “normalize” him as though he were just another politician is irresponsible, and the press should not be giving him equal footing with a more responsible candidate like Clinton.
This view has recently received traction among liberal commentators and mainstream Democrats as it becomes ever clearer that Hillary Clinton’s post-convention halo is gone. Worse, Donald Trump continues to be mired in scandal, alleged misconduct, and potential fraud, and yet none of it seems to be affecting his polling. Instead, superficial matters like the health of both candidates—propelled along by absurd displays like Trump’s appearance with celebrity physician Dr. Oz—are sucking up all the oxygen. These have been the prevailing conditions since Donald Trump entered the political fray, but only when Clinton became vulnerable did they become intolerable.
“He is playing you guys like a Stradivarius. Dominating news instead of Newsweek story, Trump Foundation,” perennial Republican critic Norman Ornstein barked at the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza. “Pathetic.”
“[Y]ou can ask any question about Trump, Trumpism or anti-Trumpism except the existential ones,” wrote newly minted GQ pundit Keith Olbermann, “because the existential ones could lead him to stop calling in to your morning show and providing you with your highest-rated hour for free.”
Even President Barack Obama has become a media critic. “We cannot afford suddenly to treat this like a reality show,” Obama said, lambasting the press for covering the 2016 campaign as though both candidates were acceptable alternatives. “We can’t afford to act as if there’s some equivalence here.”
The most confirming evidence indicative of Democratic panic is, as COMMENTARY’s John Podhoretz noted in this week’s podcast, the absurd backlash directed at NBC’s Matt Lauer over his performance as moderator of a recent town hall. A variety of members of the press were incensed over the fact that Trump issued unfounded pronouncements, made a variety of untenable assertions, and boldly fibbed about his record, all to the sound of Lauer’s silence. If this sounds familiar, it should. Just as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow declared PBS host Jim Lehrer the big loser of Barack Obama’s first disastrous presidential debate in 2012, the media become a target of the left’s derision when they feel it imprudent to direct their ire at those who truly deserve it.
The idea that Donald Trump has not been covered negatively by the press is demented. It’s not that Trump’s coverage has been soft; it’s that there has been too much negative news to cover. From the scandalous Trump Foundation, to the treatment of his hotel employees, to the fraudulent Trump University, and more, the din of scandal coverage is so deafening it’s turned into white noise. Trump is aided by the fact that Hillary Clinton’s own misconduct and ethical lapses render the contrast between her and her opponent a muted one.
Making the left’s reaction to Clinton’s stumbles even more embarrassing is ample evidence indicating that Donald Trump’s controversies do break through to the public when they are of a certain variety. Trump’s contention that the judge presiding over the case involving Trump University was unable to adjudicate the matter fairly because of his Mexican background broke through. Trump’s baseless claim that American soldiers in Iraq had regularly stolen funds allocated for reconstruction broke through. The GOP nominee’s repeated attacks on a Muslim Gold Star family, up to and including the notion that they were sympathetic toward radical Islamic terrorists, broke through. Trump’s unscripted moments can dominate press coverage, and it’s unlikely that the famously self-destructive GOP nominee has gotten this penchant for controversy out of his system.
But hope is not a strategy, and Hillary Clinton does need to make positive moments happen for her in the remaining 54 days of the 2016 campaign. In lashing out at the media for failing to do her job for her, Democrats betray both their fear and their misunderstanding of the role of the political-entertainment complex. The media cover Trump’s ugliest moments because it drives interest even among the least informed viewer. Anyone can have a firm opinion on walking pneumonia or the propriety of attacking a judge’s racial background. The same thing cannot be said for the Trump Foundation’s dubious disbursements, to name just one of the GOP nominee’s under-appreciated scandals.
When the left lashes out at the press for covering the trite and tawdry as well as the substantive amid Clinton’s collapse, they are doing themselves no favors.