An old managing editor of mine often said, as kind of a mantra, “the reader first deserves a clean shot at the facts.”
I like that philosophy–tell us what happened, and then analyze and criticize all you want.
There was plenty to criticize in Donald Trump’s presidential announcement speech, and I fact-checked it on deadline. But I’ve never seen anything like the coverage in the major newspapers.
Trump was absolutely savaged by the mainstream press for having the temerity to even think about running again for his old job. The tone was one of outrage–this is a really bad guy, and by the way he made a speech last night.
It reminded me of Steve Bannon, as a White House adviser, calling the media the “opposition party.” Is that how it’s going to be?
A former president of the United States formally enters the race as the front-runner for the Republican nomination. He of course should get tough scrutiny, especially for falsehoods and exaggerations, some of which were in Tuesday’s speech. But will much of the media essentially be campaigning against him?
And will that remain the case if he goes up against President Biden in the 2024 election?
One result will be that Trump’s supporters, who already despise the media, will feel more tightly bound to him as the target of what they see as unfair attacks–fueling his theme that he is a “victim” taking on the “establishment.”
I’m not defending Trump, his refusal to concede, his role in Jan. 6 and all the rest. But I am making a point about journalism.
Here’s the Washington Post headline: “Trump, who as president fomented an insurrection, says he is running again.”
And the lead paragraph: “Donald Trump, the twice-impeached former president who refused to concede defeat and inspired a failed attempt to overturn the 2020 election culminating in a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, officially declared on Tuesday night that he is running to retake the White House in 2024.”
The Post did quote two sentences from the speech in the third paragraph, but quickly added this:
“Almost two years on, Trump’s divisiveness has remained a defining feature of American politics, reshaping the Republican Party in his image as much as he has mobilized Democrats against him and strained the checks and balances in every branch and level of government.” There was one more set of quotes near the bottom of the piece.
The New York Times headline: “Trump Announces 2024 Run, Repeating Lies and Exaggerating Record.”
The lead: “Donald J. Trump, whose historically divisive presidency shook the pillars of the country’s democratic institutions, on Tuesday night declared his intention to seek the White House again in 2024, ignoring the appeals of Republicans who warn that his continued influence on the party is largely to blame for its weaker-than-expected showing in the midterm elections.”
Second paragraph: “His unusually early announcement was motivated in part by a calculation that a formal candidacy may help shield him from multiple investigations into his attempts to cling to power after his 2020 defeat, which led to the deadly mob attack by his supporters on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.”
Just getting warmed up. The third graf says Trump “confronts a frazzled and polarized nation — its social fabric already stressed by forces that the Trump era unleashed and supercharged — with a reboot of the nonstop political reality show that the Biden presidency had promised to cancel.”
The only quotes from the actual speech appear in the eighth paragraph.
Politico’s lead: “Donald Trump, who lost the 2020 election and left the White House under the cloud of impeachment for his role in the Jan. 6 riots on Capitol Hill, is running for president again.” But at least the story featured several quotes from the announcement speech.
Add to that the assault from media conservatives–now we’re in the realm of opinion–and Trump was getting it from all sides.
National Review ran an editorial simply titled “No,” calling Trump’s candidacy “an invitation to double down on the outrages and failures of the last several years that Republicans should reject without hesitation or doubt.”
Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote that Trump is “finished as a serious contender for high office…With his midterm rout, Trump has proved once again that he’s toxic and can never again win a general election.”
And the New York Post, once a reliable supporter, trolled Trump with a bottom-of-Page 1 headline–”Florida Man Makes Announcement”–and a little squib on Page 26. That reminds me of the Huffington Post relegating Trump to the entertainment section in 2015 and 2016–until he made it to the general election.
Whether Trump is washed up or cruises to the nomination will ultimately be up to the voters, and the media echo chamber often underestimates his strong grip on Republican voters, even if that’s been weakened. The mainstream press now has to decide whether it wants to work hard covering this race or work against the former president.