According to The New York Times, Donald Trump has been gifted $1.8 billion in free media. In other words, cable news has aired the equivalent sum of Trump stories to nearly two-billion in paid advertising. In February alone, Trump received $400 million in free airtime, which is more money than John McCain spent during his entire presidential run against Barack Obama in 2008.
That's a lot, especially given how the second-place recipient of free media coverage received less than half that total -- specifically, Hillary Clinton with $746 million in free media.
Meanwhile, the conservative rag NewsBusters lamented the fact that reporters haven't been tough enough against Trump. Indeed, the far-right website thought the major networks failed to pay enough attention to how Corey Lewandowski, Trump's campaign chief, manhandled a female Breitbart reporter, writing:
"The main broadcast networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC largely remained silent on Lewandowski's alleged actions toward a female reporter until Thursday."
And you know what? The conservatives are correct. No one in television news is doing anywhere near enough to utterly destroy Trump -- treatment which he more than deserves for reasons practically too numerous to list.
The thing is, it's not about the amount of coverage and free media Trump's receiving. It's about how pathetically uncritical and ordinary that coverage happens to be.
I've never bristled at the amount of coverage Trump is getting -- at least from a story selection point of view. Trump is a critically dangerous character disguised in orange clown makeup and a greenish-yellow cartoon hair helmet. His stumpy-fingered self-satirical appearance tends to blunt his awfulness. And showing Trump's awfulness on television could be a valuable thing.
What makes his unprecedented volume of coverage so unforgivably gratuitous is the fact that it's so seldom critical from the reporters who carry the most weight with viewers. I'm not talking about Joy Reid, Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes or Lawrence O'Donnell. They're all being as critical as possible with their Trump coverage, and that's a good thing. Where television news falls short is when non-ideological anchors and reporters give Trump a pass.
I'm talking about politically unaffiliated TV newsmen like Jake Tapper, Wolf Blitzer, Chuck Todd or Brian Williams. These are reporters who can have the most impact in seriously calling out the existential dangers of a Trump presidency, not to mention his candidacy as well. When Trump appears on television, farting his way through another violence-strewn masturbatory stump speech, the usual suspects treat his demagoguery like politics-as-usual -- transparently cowering in the face of the all-too-familiar yet unfounded "liberal media bias" accusation. Whenever any crazy Republican fails to play by the rules and engages in grabassery, TV news treats it with a boys-will-be-boys giggle and a shrug. And it's hurting America.
Trump's horrendous impact upon American politics requires a Cronkite/Vietnam moment. (CBS News legend Walter Cronkite sparked the beginning of the end of the Vietnam War when he editorialized on-the-air about how the war was unwinnable.)
The most respectable names in news have an obligation to set the record straight -- informing viewers that this isn't how it's supposed to be, and that we shouldn't get used to it, nor should we grow complacent in the face of it. Trump and his style of reality-show-meets-Third-World-strongman politics is bad for American democracy and must be stopped with haste, even if it's in favor of Hillary Clinton or a Republican like Mitt Romney or John Kasich. But they're refusing to do it, despite Trump's endless trolling and threats against the press.
What's keeping them from exercising their duty as the only industry specifically named in the Bill of Rights is their penchant for drama and their kneejerk avoidance of appearing too liberal.
Regarding the former, hack politico Mark Halperin recently confessed to Chris Matthews that the news media wants Trump to keep going in order to extend the contentious narrative, purely for the sake of ratings. It's a rare moment of honesty from Halperin, even though the truth is beyond infuriating and, in a co-conspirator sense, is enabling the most dangerous aspects of the Trump campaign. In terms of a liberal bias, there are millions of Republicans who would likely embrace a news media narrative focused on blocking Trump -- drawing a line in the sand now, today. Just ask NewsBusters or the Republican establishment itself, both of which would be thrilled to see the end of the Trump story.