The media has positioned itself as Hillary Clinton's second opponent by running more negative stories about her than any other presidential candidate. Not only are they running against her with disproportionate negativity toward her, but with disproportionate positivity toward Donald Trump.
As I mentioned last week, former NBC News and CNN correspondent and anchor Campbell Brown has written a remarkable piece in which she calls cable news onto the carpet for having cravenly caved to Donald Trump so thoroughly that they've clearly abetted his rise to the Republican nomination.
I would really like to blame Trump. But everything he is doing is with TV news' full acquiescence. Trump doesn't force the networks to show his rallies live rather than do real reporting. Nor does he force anyone to accept his phone calls rather than demand that he do a face-to-face interview that would be a greater risk for him. TV news has largely given Trump editorial control. It is driven by a hunger for ratings—and the people who run the networks and the news channels are only too happy to make that Faustian bargain.She calls Trump's candidacy "largely a creation of a TV media that wants him, or needs him, to be the central character in this year's political drama." And "character" is a good word to use—it's a word that's used a lot around Trump, in endless cable news discussions wondering (with no conclusion) whether Trump is playing a "character," or whether he's really as odious as he seems.
…We all know how it started. Early on, even before he was the front-runner, TV news was giving Trump far more attention than other candidates and far more than he deserved. …Trump gets about six appearances on the major networks for roughly every one his rivals Ted Cruz or John Kasich get. In fact, Trump's exposure has been three times greater than that of Cruz and Kasich combined. He received 50 percent of the exposure when there were more than a dozen candidates—a percentage that has only grown. Of course, by now, you've all also read the figure of close to $2 billion worth of free media the New York Times cited for Trump's TV bonanza. And that story was back in March. No campaign's advertising budget can compete.
…It is not just the wall-to-wall coverage of Trump. It's the openness with which some are reveling in his attention. It's the effort, conscious or not, to domesticate and pretty him up, to make him appear less offensive than he really is, and to practice a false objectivity or equivalence in the coverage.
The reflexive generosity of treating Trump as just a "character" is why the media greeted his candidacy, and long continued to regard it, as a bit of amusement. That he is entertaining has been enough to justify the endless coverage given to him.
Only now, as he closes in on the Republican nomination and takes one step closer to the US presidency, is cable news beginning to wonder if they made a terrible mistake.
Well, let me assure them: They did.
Trump's "shtick" has never been entertaining, or fun, or amusing to the people who are targeted by his heinous rhetoric. Many people who are members of communities at which he's directed his nationalistic bombast are terrified of a potential Trump presidency—and have been, understandably so, all along.
There's a reason that, for example, "registration among Hispanic voters is skyrocketing." And it isn't because they're laughing it up about what a "character" Trump is.
Maybe if the opinion-makers on TV news weren't "overwhelmingly white, conservative, and male in every category measured," there would have been someone to tell these mirthful Trump cheerleaders ages ago that there was nothing funny about his bigoted rhetoric.
Brown recalls CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves saying, regarding Trump's candidacy, "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS." And she observes: "This is a statement of the obvious to anyone in TV news. My wonder at it stems from how long we've managed to treat this as our dirty little secret, that thing we all know: that what's damn good for CBS is damn bad for American journalism."
If only it were just bad for American journalism. But it is bad for America. This glib submission to Trump because he is "damn good" television stands to be ruinous for the nation.
Trump's candidacy is spiraling out of control. World leaders fear his presidency. Many women, Latinxs, Muslims, and other marginalized people are frightened of what a Trump presidency could mean for their very safety. Even his rallies have turned dangerous: Last week in California, his overflow crowd again clashed with protesters, resulting in violence and more than 20 arrests.
This is a mere snapshot of what is possibly to come, if his candidacy continues unchecked and upheld.
The media has a choice to make. They can continue chasing ratings by engaging in sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton while ignoring Donald Trump's rank sexism and other bigotries, or they can start delivering fair and just coverage of both candidates.
So far, they've shown a potentially catastrophic unwillingness to make the right choice on either point.
Prioritizing profits over people doesn't cut it as a justification for this obscene dereliction of their duty. While they keep raking in the dough, it's the rest of us who will pay the price.