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Monday, September 12, 2016

The country we deserve

by digby

If this is true, we are just screwed:
Clinton’s campaign points to several pieces of evidence. She has put forth a 9,000-word plan for defeating ISIS, for example, while Trump says only that he has a plan but it must keep secret. Brooklyn argues that the media has spent more than a year producing critical coverage of Clinton’s use of a private email server and Clinton Foundation donations despite several official investigations turning up no hard evidence of corruption; meanwhile, news organizations are under-covering Trump’s $25,000 donation to Florida’s attorney general and the AG’s subsequent closing of an investigation into fraud claims against Trump University, for which he was fined by the IRS. Over the weekend, Clinton found herself under fire for describing half of Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables” even as charges of racism and misogyny among some Trump supporters have been substantiated by video and print coverage of his rallies. And on Sunday, Clinton appearing weak in the heat while leaving the 9/11 Memorial drew alarmed responses about her health, building on one of Trump’s favorite attacks on her fitness for office, while his own health and comparable age have received far less scrutiny even though he has produced only a single doctor’s letter attesting to his vigor that was dashed off by a gastroenterologist in five minutes, (not to mention his diet of meatloaf and McDonald’s).

Such a double-standard wouldn’t exist with any candidate but Trump, whose persistent mendacity and eagerness to bulldoze political norms makes him both challenging for media to hold to account and endearing to supporters who are excited to see someone taking an axe to a system they no longer trust.

“When he’s confronted with an inconsistency or contradiction in his own past, he glosses over it, denies it or jumps past it,” said Frank Sesno, the former CNN Washington bureau chief and now director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. “We’ve not seen a candidate that’s not held accountable by the public for the kinds of things he has done.”

Lauer’s gentle questioning of Trump—after grilling Clinton over her use of a private email server and her 2003 vote on the Iraq war—is but one example of television journalists treating the GOP nominee with kid gloves. Indeed, the media industry as a whole has become addicted to the television ratings and higher click-rates generated by Trump. And among media executives, the treatment of Trump by some networks and reporters is directly related to the leverage he holds, and he knows it.

“[Trump] is personally more involved in the process than most candidates are or at least admit to be,” said one network news executive, granted anonymity to speak privately. “His team is very keen on making sure he’s comfortable with who the interviewer is and the placement of the news cycle. He understands news very well. He’s more involved directly in booking than a typical candidate has been. They say yes a lot more, that’s not a surprise, a lot more than Hillary.”

While that executive said Trump asks for specific anchors or moderators less than others, the GOP nominee is clear about which ones he prefers. It’s hard to envision Trump agreeing to last week’s NBC forum were Rachel Maddow or Chuck Todd asking the questions. And there is wide speculation among media executives that NBC’s Lester Holt, who Trump is comfortable with, was chosen to moderate the first debate with Clinton later this month in order to appease the GOP nominee. Similarly, some also believe that Fox News’ Chris Wallace was tapped to moderate the third and final debate to lessen the likelihood that Trump skips it.

In February, CBS News president Les Moonves’ admission that Trump’s campaign “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS” laid bare the motivation behind many networks non-stop Trump coverage and the imperative of keeping him reasonably happy.

But as much as the networks and even print news organizations face criticism for giving Trump a pass, the GOP nominee has arguably been subjected to more constant and devastating journalistic scrutiny than any presidential candidate in recent memory—his many bankruptcies, misogynistic treatment of women and false claims of charitable giving have all been the subject of deeply reported and normally devastating print coverage. Trump has seemingly withstood the onslaught because so many voters appear wiling to forgive his insulting rhetoric and policy ignorance. That’s certainly been borne out by public and private focus groups.

“We’d show voters stupid things he’s said, and they’d just shrug and say, ‘That’s just Trump being Trump,’” said one Democratic operative who has observed Clinton campaign focus groups. “It was a fairly common response, and it was horrifying.”

"People are willing to give him a pass because he doesn’t have a career in service. I think it’s the wrong approach because you should be assessing the candidate’s readiness to do the job,” said Lanhee Chen, an adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign who recalls how Romney was excoriated for “gaffes” during his Europe trip that, by comparison to Trump’s behavior on an almost daily basis, would now be considered as minor mistakes. “People have such low expectations because his campaign has been so dysfunctional that when they run like a normal campaign should run, people tend to give them a lot of credit. There’s a relativism there.”

The race is close. I think the media is going to have to do some soul searching about how they're covering this. Yes, I'm sure the voters are giving him a pass for things they don't give anyone else a pass on. But the media has normalized him in a hundred different ways and just shrugging it off as something "the voters" don't care about is insufficient. They worked very hard to balance the coverage with excessive attention to Clinton's mush less threatening flaws and that has had a pernicious effect on the coverage.

It's obvious they are in denial about this. Indeed, they are now in full-fledged "blame the victim" mode --- Hillary Clinton and the voters. This is all Clinton's fault for failing to give them the "access" they want and the country's for not being able to put together the pieces of the puzzle about Donald Trump. Punishing Clinton is one thing --- she's just a politician. But punishing the country by enabling this authoritarian freak show to become president just isn't right. Their kids have to live here to and I cannot imagine that all of their rationalizing on November 8th about what a flawed candidate Clinton was will make up for what comes after. This isn't politics as usual.