Since successfully emasculating Chris Christie into serfdom, dueling Paul Ryan to a draw, and hypnotizing Marco Rubio into supporting him, Donald Trump has finally settled on his newest target of bombast. The media.
Regardless of his ire, the media is the lifeblood of his campaign. It is estimated he has received over $2 billion in free air time and he has spent less on advertising than Green Party candidate Jill Stein. During a recent interview with the Washington Post, he famously stopped the interview 5 times – including mid-sentence – to stare at the TV and comment on himself. He is like a dog who barks at a squirrel while you’re trying to get it to sit. And lately he has been doing a lot of barking.
To hear Trump tell it, in the past week he has been the victim of two media conspiracies to make him look bad after he said a couple completely innocuous words. First was his apparent reference to encourage assassinating Hillary Clinton and the second was his declaration that President Obama “founded ISIS.” But the media was wrong Trump says, the Clinton comment was “sarcasm” and merely meant to encourage Second Amendment supporters to
shoot vote and the Obama comment wasn’t literal, obviously.
The media has such a sensitive gag reflex to his quotes because he has developed a reputation as a caricature of a dictator where it isn’t far-fetched to assume he could intend something as incendiary as an allusion to assassination.
Remember, the media doesn’t operate in a vacuum. They have chronicled Trump’s history. They live for continuing narratives. If Mitt Romney had said either of those things, the spin wouldn’t have been the same because he didn’t have the same track record that Trump does.
Unlike Romney, Trump repeatedly employed thinly veiled dog-whistles during the primaries to gin up support among blue collar white voters such as when he played funny with the endorsement of the KKK by pretending to not know who David Duke was. The media was suspect his explanation of that incident and they will continue to be with others like it.
This style of reporting on the Trump campaign also extends beyond Trump himself.
For example, Trump surrogate and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is currently backpedaling at Olympic speed for saying that the United States suffered no terror attacks in the eight years preceding the Obama presidency. The media jumped it because on its face it is an absurd and insultingly false comment. Giuliani, after all, was the mayor of New York City on 9/11 and can (hopefully) do math to realize that that is less than eight years prior to Obama.
What upsets Trumpians is that if one looks at Giuliani’s full remarks, only a couple minutes before the quote in question he had mentioned that 9/11 was a foreign attack on U.S. soil during a time of Republican leadership, thus clearly Giuliani was taken out of context.
So is Trump right? Is the media treating him unfairly?
The short answer is that no, they are not.
The media doesn’t think that Giuliani has forgotten when 9/11 was. They are aghast at him for the absurdity of the remark because he and his fellow Trump mouthpieces are so willing to say literally anything to hurt the president and Hillary Clinton that they don’t consider fact, history, or reason before speaking.
Presidential campaign speeches and talking points used to be some of the most highly vetted words ever spoken, but Trump’s campaign and its surrogates are employing the same vetting process as your drunk cousin at Thanksgiving.
As I mentioned earlier, Trump and his surrogate’s quotes get written about from an angle of seriousness and shock because he has previously acted in such a way to make those quotes seem intentional. If a Mormon missionary is found at the scene of a crime, he is much more likely to get the benefit of the doubt than someone who has a rap sheet the length of a CVS receipt.
The other reason that the media treats obviously false statements like “Obama founded ISIS” with such intensity is that Trump says them to play to the whims of conspiracy theory junkies. Just as Trump’s hesitancy to disavow David Duke was seen as a nod to southern whites, the Obama-ISIS quote was seen as a nod towards those who don’t believe Obama is a patriot. If the media gives him a pass on these “hint-hint” style allegations, they’d view themselves as abdicating their duty to not perpetuate ugly conspiracies and flat out lies.
The final point is that the media mostly just repeats verbatim what Trump says. They don’t have to skew opinion one way or another because just simply saying “Trump said” and playing the tape does a pretty good job of getting the point across. President Obama made this point at a fundraiser for Clinton recently saying “I don’t have to make the case against [Trump] because every time he talks, he makes the case against his own candidacy.”
As long as Trump keeps holding press conferences, the media will continue to cover him with skepticism, shock, and dueling panels of “experts.” Trump can either adapt and save his campaign or continue on his path and save money on confetti and balloons.
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