By Justin Rosario
From the beginning of Donald Trump’s run for the White House, we have had front row seats to the worst case of journalistic malpractice since the run up to the Iraq War. But has the press finally snapped out of it and is there still time to undo the damage?
The press was giddy back in June of 2015 when Trump announced he was running for president and did so by calling Mexicans rapists. Oh my! This was going to be ratings gold! And for the next year, they gave Trump an estimated $2.8 Billion in free advertising by airing practically every speech he gave. In much the same way people watch NASCAR hoping for a spectacular wreck, the networks kept the cameras on Trump nonstop, hoping for the next “Mexicans are rapists” soundbite.
What the press didn’t do was spend much time factchecking Trump’s tsunami of lies. Even when they knew he was lying, they were reluctant to call him on it; a problem they didn’t seem to have with Hillary Clinton. The press has long had a narrative of the Hillary Clinton as being uniquely secretive despite being the single most scrutinized woman on the planet. This is why we have decades of Hillary’s tax returns and medical records, none of Trump’s and Hillary is still considered less transparent.
But after Trump pissed off pretty much every media outlet, including Fox News, with his Birther announcement cum hotel infomercial, the press seems to have had enough.
CNN’s Brian Stelter noticed a marked shift in how the press has been covering Trump. Gone are the euphemisms like “stretching the truth” and “spin” to be replaced by “lie” and “false statements”:
On the weekend leading up to 2016’s first presidential debate, four news organizations came to a similar and sweeping conclusion: Donald Trump lies more often than Hillary Clinton.
In a normal election year this would be extraordinary. On Sunday editors and reporters at the newsrooms used another word: necessary.
A charitable reading of this sudden burst of ethics would be the realization that the press is responsible for putting a monster within inches of the White House. Another, less charitable, reading would be that the media elite got played again and they decided it was time to teach Trump a lesson.
The New York Times has their own interpretation that might hit a little closer to the mark: Someone in the elite media had to have the chutzpah to say out loud that Donald Trump is a liar. And the Times did just that after Trump tried to put the Birther issue to bed:
The next day’s New York Times headline explicitly used the “L word” journalists are usually reluctant to use.
“I do think that our story on the day that Trump sought to reverse himself on birtherism — which said outright that Trump was ‘lying’ — sent ripples through the journalistic world,” Times political editor Carolyn Ryan said Sunday.
“Other news organizations are eager to capture what is clearly an unprecedented dynamic,” she said.
This does not bode well for Trump going forward. His greatest strength in this election has been the media endlessly harping on the “Hillary is dishonest” narrative while giving Trump a pass. But if they flip that narrative on its head, depicting Trump as a pathological liar that leaves Hillary’s run-of-the-mill political fibs in the dust? Trump is in for a rough several weeks.
Politico Magazine’s team analyzed every statement made by both Trump and Clinton for five days and said “the conclusion is inescapable: Trump’s mishandling of facts and propensity for exaggeration so greatly exceed Clinton’s as to make the comparison almost ludicrous.”
The words “almost ludicrous” ricocheted around Twitter.
I expect the reporting on tonight’s debate to follow a similar pattern: Sure, Clinton stretched the truth a few times but Trump was lying through his teeth most of the night.
The question now becomes: Did this newfound courage come too late? Can the narrative that the press has spent the last year or so cementing into the public’s consciousness be changed? The good news is that American’s public dangerously short attention span that has greatly, hugely, tremendously benefited Trump up until now may destroy him. If the press starts endlessly reporting on Trump’s many MANY lies, it won’t take much for people who have only been paying attention to the election for the last couple of weeks to decide that Trump is not worth voting for.
Watch the media’s tone after tonight’s debate and we’ll know if the media is going to stick with its new narrative and break Trump’s candidacy or if they’re going to throw the entire country to the wolves to keep their ratings up.