Jonathan Chait correctly informs us that "Donald Trump Was Never Vetted" yet manages to completely miss the most fundamental reason why this happened: Everyone assumed Hillary was going to win so no one bothered.
To be fair to Chait, this was not the only reason and he does an excellent job running down why the press allowed, in Chait's words, a criminal to walk into the White House with only minimal examination of his background:
One reason Trump has escaped scrutiny, of course, is that he has withheld his tax returns. The more information about his finances that dribbles out, of course, the more explicable that decision appears.
And that's true as far as it goes. But under normal circumstances, such secrecy would have kicked off a feeding frenzy for journalists. They would have started digging into Trump's finances like termites, exactly what they've been doing for the last two years. But they didn't. They just kind of complained about it and let it go. They did the same thing with Bernie when he didn't release his tax returns. Does anyone seriously think Hillary would have gotten away with that?
But this curious journalistic ennui gets worse because the press loved covering Trump.
Trump spent decades courting the news media, and was covered like a member of the British royal family. The sheer mass of the coverage blotted out any damning details. And the pace of the coverage accelerated during the campaign.
Cable news gave Trump literally billions in free PR, going so far as to spend hours showing an empty podium, breathlessly waiting for him to come out and say something offensive. As now-disgraced CBS Chairman Les Moonves said at the time, "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS." But the written press is not subject to the same 24/7 demand to fill the airwaves. They can be far more selective in what they write about and they still allowed Trump to set the narrative because it was easier and more lucrative than doing their jobs. They loved to cover Trump. They just didn't want to put any effort into it.
It's not like the information wasn't out there. People have known about Trump's connection to the mob for decades. His business model of stiffing people who work for him was notorious long before he was on TV. His racism was generational. The money laundering for the Russian mob was a poorly concealed secret. It took the slightest of investigations to uncover his serial abuse of women. It wasn't that Trump was "a secretive, mysterious figure who has escaped basic scrutiny," as Chait suggests, because he knew how to cover his tracks. He escaped basic scrutiny because the press never fucking bothered to look.
Why? Because Hillary was "supposed" to win so the press decided to spend all of its time and energy tearing her to shreds. And why not? She was going to be president and this way the press could prove to everyone that they weren't "the liberal media." They were going to kick Hillary's ass every day for 8 years and show the world that they spoke truth to power. Hoo-rah!
This is why the press went apeshit over Hillary's emails, beating a story to death long after it was clear there was no story. You'll notice they've harrumphed a bit and over far more egregious email stories since then and very quickly moved on. Almost like the only thing that made the email story special was that the name "Hillary Clinton" was attached to it.
This is why the press foamed at the mouth over the Clinton Foundation, insisting that there was corruption and when they couldn't find any, inventing the "appearance of corruption." Meanwhile, they had multiple stories about the Trump Foundation, which was recently closed down by the courts, being actually corrupt that got a fraction of the reporting.
A recent Patrick Radden Keefe profile of Mark Burnett reveals how the reality television producer turned Trump into a commanding business tycoon. “We walked through the offices and saw chipped furniture,” one Apprenticeproducer recalls in the piece. “We saw a crumbling empire at every turn. Our job was to make it seem otherwise.”
But no one checked into that or anything else from Trump's shady past because Hillary was going to win so why bother?
The press didn't just fail to do its job, it was almost malicious in its assault on one presidential candidate and its willful neglect of the other. Some outlets, like the Washington Post, are trying to make up for their failings while others like the New York Times continue to carry water for a corrupt regime and do the bare minimum to accept their responsibility (if they take any responsibility at all).
Chait is taking an important step here in arguing that the media blew it but he's not going far enough. Until reporters acknowledge not just what they did but why they did it, they're going to do it again and while we may survive Trump, we may not survive the monster that steps into the void he's going to leave.
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