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Thursday, November 10, 2016

They created him now they're normalizing him

by digby

I wrote about the press giving Trump a clean slate today for Salon:

Last spring when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were sewing up their parties' respective nominations, I wrote about a phenomenon that I could see was going to be a problem going forward: the media's need for "balance" making them normalize Trump and demonize Clinton. The contours of the coming general election were starting to form and what I saw wasn't healthy. Over time it became downright toxic and the poison still infects our politics now that the election has been decided.

Throughout the primaries Clinton's opponent Senator Bernie Sanders had declined to attack her about "her damn emails" and he was right to do so. The "email scandal" is a spurious charge that by having a private server she was guilty of a federal crime which is ridiculous. That belief spawned the execrable chants at Trump rallies of "lock her up" and "Hillary for Prison" and this became Trump's primary attack against her. It was a very serious charge fraught with baggage that went back more than 20 years when the press demonized her as a "congenital liar" and a criminal (neither of which were true then either.)

Clinton, meanwhile, was trying to hit a moving target, a man who is thoroughly immoral and corrupt in every way, crudely insulting everyone except his loyal followers until it all seemed to merge into a cartoon caricature that his voters didn't take seriously. His "policy" pronouncements from building a wall to banning Muslims to torturing terrorist suspects and killing their families were cheered on wildly by his fans and reported dutifully in the press as if he were a normal politician offering up his views on a highway bill. His myriad business failures were discussed but never put into the context of politics. His plans to keep his businesses going after the election wasn't questioned.  His mistreatment of women was covered extensively and then dropped.

Month after month, Clinton was hammered in the press over the arcane email story with new "tranches" being continuously released under the Freedom of Information Act. Then Wikileaks began dumping the hacked, uncurated private correspondence from her staff, each new group creating headlines but revealing nothing criminal or even unethical.  It was an a relentless drumbeat that ceased to have any specific meaning early on and instead became a symbol of Clinton's dishonesty, untrustworthiness and finally, her criminality.

The Gallup poll asked people this fall what were they were hearing about the two candidates:

As you can see, people had heard a whole lot about Clinton's emails and it certainly wasn't in a positive context. Trump, on other hand was associated with a bunch of different ideas that didn't add up to much.

This was not because the media didn't report all the negative Trump stories. It's that they didn't break through in any cohesive way while Clinton's were highly focused on one issue that served as a proxy for her allegedly dishonest character. When FBi director James Comey dropped his email bombshell in the last week of the campaign the news media went wall to wall on the story, despite the fact that it was no more of a criminal matter than it had been before. The NY Times ran their front page with screaming headlines two days in a row.

And it made a difference. As Matthew Yglesias concludes in this interesting article for Vox:
Analysis of Trump’s victory will naturally tend to focus on the broad structural forces that drove his rise. But elections are close-run things. The difference between a narrow win in Florida and a narrow loss in Florida is just a few thousand votes. The typical Trump supporter was drawn to him out of either baseline partisanship or attraction to the peculiarities of his message. But the marginal Trump supporter is the reason he won. And that supporter was very likely influenced by the overwhelming media focus on the email matter.
Clinton won the popular vote but she lost the electoral college by very small margins in a number of states. There is little doubt that the email story contributed to Hillary Clinton's defeat and as Yglesias says, it "is and always was overhyped bullshit."

One might have hoped that the fact this absurd pursuit of a non-story may have changed the course of history (and not in a good way) that the media would do some soul searching about how they covered an election between a mainstream qualified woman and an unfit confidence man. But if the first 24 hours of coverage are any example, it's unlikely.  For example, Maeve Reston of CNN tweeted this:

It's not that they didn't vet Trump. It's that they vetted him badly, in a way that people couldn't understand. And where CNN and the other networks are concerned, the hours and hours of free airtime, the bending of the rules for him, the normalizing of his outrageous campaign rhetoric, which the network honchos admitted was great for ratings, certainly adds up to special treatment.

But if we thought they had "normalized" Trump before, it was nothing to what's happening now. They assume that Donald Trump has "pivoted", shorthand for their ongoing assumption that at some point Trump would drop the cretinous imbecile act he uses to entertain the rubes and morph into the intelligent, thoughtful businessman he really is.  This anticipation of the pivot was a regular feature of the campaign which obviously never actually happened --- or ever will. Trump is Trump.

Nonetheless, the usual panels have been convened and the analysis of the election has gelled into an anodyne "change" message in which "the people" are just tired of the status quo and voted out the party in power.  The discussion is all about how President-elect Trump and the Democrats will have to reach out and bring the nation together.  The odious campaign he just ran to get to the White House, the ugliness he exposed in our body politic, has been disappeared. Donald Trump has been given a clean slate. It's like it never happened.

The good news is that until presumptive Attorney General Rudy Giuliani brings Trump's promised indictment against Hillary Clinton we won't have to hear about the emails. The only time they came up yesterday was when someone actually asked if President Obama planned to give her a presidential pardon before he leaves office. She's committed no crime and yet may face some sort of show trial to satisfy the slavering Trump voters still eager to see her punished, so the White House was non-committal.  The media's normalization of Donald Trump is complete. The demonization of Hillary Clinton continues.