My Shared Shame: The Media Helped Make Trump. De Nicolas Kristof/ The New York Times
Nicolas Kristof, 26 marzo 2016 / THE NEW YORK TIMES
THOSE of us in the news media have sometimes blamed Donald Trump’s rise on the Republican Party’s toxic manipulation of racial resentments over the years. But we should also acknowledge another force that empowered Trump: Us.
I polled a number of journalists and scholars, and there was a broad (though not universal) view that we in the media screwed up. Our first big failing was that television in particular handed Trump the microphone without adequately fact-checking him or rigorously examining his background, in a craven symbiosis that boosted audiences for both.
“Trump is not just an instant ratings/circulation/clicks gold mine; he’s the motherlode,” Ann Curry, the former “Today” anchor, told me. “He stepped on to the presidential campaign stage precisely at a moment when the media is struggling against deep insecurities about its financial future. The truth is, the media has needed Trump like a crack addict needs a hit.”
Curry says she’s embarrassed by the unfairness to other Republican candidates, who didn’t get nearly the same airtime.
An analysis by The Times found that we in the news media gave Trump $1.9 billion in free publicity in this presidential cycle. That’s 190 times as much as he paid for in advertising, and it’s far more than any other candidate received. As my colleague Jim Rutenberg put it, some complain that “CNN has handed its schedule over to Mr. Trump,” and CNN had lots of company.
Larry Sabato, a politics professor at the University of Virginia, says television networks “have a lot to answer for.”
“We all know it’s about ratings, and Trump delivers,” Sabato says. “You can’t take your eyes off him. When Trump is on, I stop what I’m doing and wait for the car crash.”
Sabato is particularly critical of Sunday morning news program hosts who have allowed Trump to “appear” by telephone, instead of in person.
Although many of us journalists have derided Trump, the truth is that he generally outsmarted us (with many exceptions, for there truly have been serious efforts to pin him down and to investigate Trump University and his various business failings). He manipulated television by offering outrageous statements that drew ever more cameras — without facing enough skeptical follow-up questions.
It’s not that we shouldn’t have covered Trump’s craziness, but that we should have aggressively provided context in the form of fact checks and robust examination of policy proposals. A candidate claiming that his business acumen will enable him to manage America deserved much more scrutiny of his bankruptcies and mediocre investing.
All politicians spin, of course. But all in all, I’ve never met a national politician in the U.S. who is so ill informed, evasive, puerile and deceptive as Trump.
When the fact-check website PolitiFact was ready to choose its “lie of the year” for 2015, it found that the only real contenders were falsehoods by Trump. So it lumped them together and awarded the title to “the many campaign misstatements of Donald Trump.”
That pattern of prevarication is what we in the media, especially television, didn’t adequately highlight, leaving many voters with the perception that Trump is actually a straight shooter.
The reason for this passivity goes, I think, to a second failure: We wrongly treated Trump as a farce. “The media made a mistake by covering Trump’s candidacy at the start as some sort of joke or media prank,” notes Danielle S. Allen, a political scientist at Harvard. “The repeated use of references to ‘the Donald’ across all platforms structured the conversation around ironical affection for a celebrity rather than around serious conversation of character and policy.”
“Trump was quite literally a laugh line,” says Ralph Begleiter, a former CNN correspondent and communications professor at the University of Delaware. Begleiter notes that Sarah Palin received more serious vetting as a running mate in 2008 than Trump has as a presidential candidate.
I personally made the mistake of regarding Trump’s candidacy as a stunt, scoffing at the idea that he could be the nominee. Mea culpa.
We failed to take Trump seriously because of a third media failing: We were largely oblivious to the pain among working-class Americans and thus didn’t appreciate how much his message resonated. “The media has been out of touch with these Americans,” Curry notes.
Media elites rightly talk about our insufficient racial, ethnic and gender diversity, but we also lack economic diversity. We inhabit a middle-class world and don’t adequately cover the part of America that is struggling and seething. We spend too much time talking to senators, not enough to the jobless.
All this said, I have to add that I don’t know if more fact-checking would have mattered. Tom Brokaw of NBC did outstanding work challenging Trump, but he says that when journalists have indeed questioned Trump’s untrue statements, nothing much happens: “His followers find fault with the questions, not with his often incomplete, erroneous or feeble answers.”
Likewise, Bob Schieffer of CBS tells me: “I’m not sure more fact-checking would have changed that much. We’re in a new world where attitude seems to count more than facts.”
That may be true. But I still think that we blew it and that this should be a moment for self-reflection in journalism.
Despite some outstanding coverage of Trump, on the whole we in the media empowered a demagogue and failed the country. We were lap dogs, not watchdogs.
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Can Paul Ryan and Donald Trump coexist within the Republican Party? De Dan Balz/The Washington Post
Dan Balz, 26 marzo 2016 / THE WASHINGTON POST
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan attempted to lift the horizons of his party with a speech last week in which he called for a competition of ideas rather than insults, and constructive political debate rather than the politics of demonization.
Ryan’s speech was aimed at pulling the Republican Party away from Donald Trump’s embrace — though he never actually mentioned Trump by name. Events quickly showed what he is up against. The speaker was quickly drowned out by a snarling argument between Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas over their wives that almost eclipsed the terrorist attacks in Brussels in the U.S. media.
By week’s end, the Republican race had gone into the gutter over tabloid charges of infidelity, which the senator vehemently denied and for which he blamed the New York billionaire, who called it unfounded. A race that seemed already at the bottom managed to find another low.
Ryan’s speech was a relatively high-minded moment in the middle of this mud fight of a Republican nominating contest. His effort to rescue the party from a coming crisis is laudable, but the root causes of the condition go far beyond Trump.
Four years ago, scholars Thomas Mann, then with the Brookings Institution, and Norman Ornstein, then and now with the American Enterprise Institute, published a book examining the breakdown in American politics. It was titled “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.”
The authors took aim at the gridlocked and dysfunctional politics of Washington and the broader issue of political polarization that has become endemic in recent years. They were unsparing but not even-handed in their critique. They were ahead of others in describing the underlying causes of polarization as asymmetrical, with the Republican Party — in particular its most hard-line faction — as deserving of far more of the blame for the breakdown in governing.
Mann and Ornstein are back again with a second and updated paperback edition, called “It’s Even Worse Than It Was.” The paperback arrives in the middle of the most raucous presidential campaign in memory, one that has exposed even more the fissures, fractures and divisions within the Republican Party coalition.
What played out primarily in the party’s congressional wing has come to consume the presidential nominating contest. In their own ways, Trump and Cruz have brought to the surface the economic and cultural anger among many of those in the party’s base as well as the distrust of the party leadership — the same motivating forces behind the Freedom Caucus rebels in the House Republican conference.
The current campaign only adds fuel to the Mann-Ornstein thesis of a Republican Party at war with itself in ways that have helped cripple the governing process. Trump and Cruz reflect the yearning within the Republican base for anti-establishment outsiders to topple the insiders in Washington.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the third remaining candidate for the nomination, is a dissenting voice, calling for cooperation and compromise. At this point, he is not just a dissenting voice; he is a minority voice in the presidential competition, unless he can start winning more primaries.
Trump and Ryan represent bookends in a political debate that has considerable consequences for the Republican Party and for the country. Trump’s position as front-runner not only highlights the degree to which the party is being taken over by anti-establishment forces but also foreshadows the possibility of a significant defeat in November if, as the GOP nominee, Trump is unable to reverse his standing among women, Hispanics, African Americans and other voting groups.
Ryan represents something far different, politics grounded in ideas and policies and an attitude of goodwill toward the opposition that he inherited from his mentor, Jack Kemp, the former House member from Buffalo who prodded his party to be more open and inclusive.
Yet Ryan’s speech left unanswered key questions about his capacity to change the behavior of his party’s conference in the House and in particular the degree to which he is willing to find a governing coalition apart from the hard-liners in the Freedom Caucus.
As the country’s highest-ranking Republican elected official, Ryan symbolizes the establishment’s backlash to Trump’s candidacy, a backlash that has so far failed to stop the New York businessman’s march to the nomination. The resistance might yet succeed. Whether it does or doesn’t, it raises the question of whether this presidential campaign ultimately will produce a true course change for the party or merely end up intensifying the forces that have brought it to this moment.
I put that question to Ornstein in an email exchange Friday: “This really is, I believe, an existential crisis for the Republican Party,” he wrote. “Will it be a Ryan-style conservative, problem-solving party, or will it be either a Trump-style, authoritarian, nativist and protectionist party, or a Cruz-style radical anti-government party content with blowing things up as they now stand? Or, just as possible, will the party break apart, with no clue as to what will replace it or how the pieces will fit into the broader political system?”
The prospects for a crackup are real, given what Trump’s candidacy has revealed about the party’s fractured coalition. Trump’s views on issues, outlined on the campaign trail and in a recent interview with The Washington Post editorial board, represent a fundamental break with many of the conservative ideas that have been at the party’s core for years.
Trump’s constituency finds his support for protecting rather than transforming Social Security and Medicare appealing. His words of praise for the work of Planned Parenthood, apart from performing abortions, are anathema to many religious conservatives. His views on trade run counter to the free-trade philosophy of the GOP elites. His comments about reevaluating the U.S. role in NATO shocked many in the Republican foreign-policy establishment.
That’s the threat Ryan and others in the party see as they watch the nominating contest move into the next rounds of primaries. But it isn’t clear that what the speaker advocated in his speech would be enough to put the Republican Party in a better place, even absent Trump. House Republicans are still an unruly group and, with some exceptions, the GOP still prefers to try to do business with itself.
The Republican Party remains a party of protest. It continues to struggle to demonstrate that, on the national level, it can be a true governing party.