With Donald Trump claiming that he has been treated extremely unfairly by the press, the mainstream media are fighting back. He has often referred to The New York Times as “dishonest” and “failing.” And the Times seems to be pulling out all the stops in its efforts to discredit him. There is no doubt that this is the most vitriolic and hate-filled campaign season in the television era.
But now Times columnist Jim Rutenberg and others are suggesting that their normal journalistic standards are being tested. Normally, journalists argue, they would be equally hard on both sides. But in this case, Donald Trump is so uniquely crude, provocative, and dishonest that reporters can’t and shouldn’t be expected to stay neutral.
“If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that,” writes Rutenberg in “Trump Is Testing the Norms of Objectivity in Journalism.” “You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, nonopinion journalist I’ve ever known, and by normal standards, untenable.”
“But the question that everyone is grappling with is: Do normal standards apply?” continues Rutenberg. “And if they don’t, what should take their place?”
The mainstream media have been in the tank for Democratic presidential candidates for many elections. Consider, for example, the treatment of Senator John McCain (R-AZ) when he ran against then-candidate Barack Obama. “In 2008…journalists swooned over the prospect of Barack Obama as the first black president, and coordinated to discuss attacks on Obama’s critics,” notes Joel Pollak for Breitbart. “In one particularly noxious episode, a photographer working for the Atlantic photoshopped a cover image she had shot to cast McCain as a bloodthirsty monster.”
Later, when Mitt Romney ran for president against the incumbent Obama, “journalists plotted together to make Mitt Romney the target of Benghazi coverage, rather than Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—and CNN’s Candy Crowley infamously threw the second presidential debate to Obama,” writes Pollak.
Chris Cuomo of CNN spilled the beans a couple of years back, saying, “We [in the media] couldn’t help [Hillary] any more than we have.” His co-host laughed and agreed, saying “I know, I know.” Cuomo then added, “She’s got just a free ride so far from the media. We’re the biggest ones promoting her campaign.” It’s even more true today than it was back then.
Trump, on the other hand, has been compared to Nazi sympathizers and appeasers, called a racist, a demagogue, irrational, hateful—and even eager to use nuclear weapons. CNN’s Brian Stelter accused Trump of using “coded language” and “dog whistles” when speaking about Obama. Taking a candidate’s words at face value is the type of non-confrontational, hands off media treatment reserved for Hillary Clinton.
“It is journalism’s job to be true to the readers and viewers, and true to the facts, in a way that will stand up to history’s judgment,” writes Rutenberg. He is saying, in not so many words, that journalists have a mandate to pre-judge what society will say about a president at the end of his term—before he even takes office. This is crystal ball punditry masking itself as journalism.
In another New York Times column, Thomas Friedman spews his hatred toward Trump: “Forget politics; he is a disgusting human being,” argues Friedman. “His children should be ashamed of him. I only pray that he is not simply defeated, but that he loses all 50 states so that the message goes out across the land—unambiguously, loud and clear: The likes of you should never come this way again.” Friedman writes opinion pieces for the Times, but is probably speaking for almost everyone at the paper.
He and Rutenberg are excusing blatant media bias under the assumption that Trump is uniquely hateful, and has brought this treatment down upon himself. Friedman cites Trump followers as having called to “lock [Hillary] up”—ignoring that irate Bernie Sanders supporters have called for the same thing.
“As for your question about Hillary Clinton, and you guys spoke about this a little bit today, too, when he takes up so much oxygen that the fear is, and I mentioned this in the column, that she doesn’t get looked at enough,” said Rutenberg on Morning Joe. Yes, he does acknowledge in the article that “her use of a private email server for, in some cases, top-secret national security information…warrants scrutiny, along with her entire record. But,” he explains, “the candidates do not produce news at the same rate.”
Again, it is somehow Trump’s fault that his opponent is favored by the media. Clearly, Trump has been his own worst enemy at times, failing to capitalize on days that Hillary should have been the story for having been caught in another lie. The truth is, Hillary Clinton gets a pass from the mainstream media because she is their favored candidate. She has lied over and over again about sending and receiving classified material on her homebrew server and pay-for-play as secretary of state, but the media often give these falsehoods a pass. Mishandling classified material as recklessly as she did for four years should disqualify her from becoming president.
Yes, Mrs. Clinton earned four Pinocchios from The Washington Post for misrepresenting FBI Director James Comey’s comments about her handling of classified information on her server. So why does she largely get a pass from the liberal media, as opposed to the rough treatment that the press has given Mr. Trump, tarring him as a veritable monster? Trump does get some positive press, and Hillary gets pummeled at times from talk radio, certain conservative websites, and Fox News. But it pales in comparison to the incessant drumbeat against Trump.
Reporters, like those at The New York Times, must believe that history will absolve them for rooting for the Democratic candidate—and saving the world from a Trump presidency.
In his column Friedman compares Trump’s “Second Amendment” comment about Hillary Clinton to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. “But there are always people down the line who don’t hear the caveats,” Friedman writes. “They just hear the big message: The man is illegitimate, the man is a threat to the nation, the man is the equivalent of a Nazi war criminal. Well, you know what we do with people like that, don’t you? We kill them.”
In reality, these are exactly the charges regularly expressed against Trump. There was, in fact, a failed attempt to assassinate him. Yet The Washington Post excused the lackluster coverage of this assassination attempt as Trump’s fault for not pushing for greater coverage. “If Trump wanted to make this episode big news, he could do it,” reports Callum Borchers for the Post.
No matter the excuse, the mainstream media will continue to perpetuate their double standard towards presidential candidates. Contrary to the rhetoric, it’s all about helping one particular candidate win—and ensuring that the other one loses. Rutenberg’s assertion that the press faces tough questions about whether to remain objective in this election is false. The press has not, and will not, be objective this presidential cycle.