The media masochism surrounding Donald Trump

Scrolling through my newsfeed this morning, I came across a link to an opinion piece at MSNBC that caught my eye. The title was, “How media should not cover Donald Trump.” What made it even more surprising is that it was under the byline of Noah Rothman, who used to grace the pages of Hot Air back in the day. I chatted with him on Twitter this morning and learned that he’s actually been writing for MSNBC for a while, though I apparently hadn’t noticed.

In any event, it’s a lengthy article dealing with the problems that so many media outlets seem to have when covering Trump’s third presidential bid or (shockingly) deciding if they should cover it at all. Noah begins with a regularly repeated belief that Trump’s rapid rise to the stars during the 2016 election was almost entirely fueled by earned media and the MSM’s obsession with him on both sides of the aisle. I won’t try to say that his 24/7 coverage on cable news didn’t help significantly, but he could also afford plenty of advertising on his own. Your mileage may vary.

But that was then and this is now. The vast majority of the MSM aside from Fox and a couple of smaller outlets have been openly at war with Donald Trump for the better part of eight years. And now that he’s tossed his hat back in the ring for the third time, some reporters don’t seem to know how to deal with it. Noah quotes Michelle Goldberg at the New York Times, who says that the press “has to” cover Trump the candidate, but should never do so without a caveat and they must “qualify almost every mention of the former president with a litany of his past offenses.”

I would argue that Goldberg is a bit late to the party because we’re already seeing that from liberal journalists in every forum. If Trump’s plane is late arriving at a rally, you’ll read something along the lines of, ‘Candidate Donald Trump, who has likely killed and eaten more than four hundred puppies, was delayed in his arrival by fifteen minutes.’

Noah is obviously no fan of Trump’s and he fills much of twelve lengthy paragraphs with his own professionally rendered barbs. But through it all, he’s making a larger point. Noah seeks to explain how Donald Trump, no matter how terrible of a person he may be, can run for President again if he wishes, and the media should resist their impulses to try to defeat him and simply cover his candidacy. In summary, Rothman eventually reaches the meat of his warning to the press, while working in a few additional digs against the Bad Orange Man.

For journalists, the worst impulses Trump has legitimated are those that have led them to sacrifice objectivity in the effort to engineer electoral results they prefer. Whatever you think of their motives, it hasn’t been an effective enterprise, and it has done reputational harm to their institution. Dispassion and objectivity, as hard as they may be to summon when it comes to Donald Trump, strips him of one of his biggest assets: opposition from the “right people.” Without that, what does he have left?

Perhaps inadvertently, Noah points out the real problem with 95% of the political media. He does so when he notes how the press tries to “engineer electoral results they prefer.” A couple of decades ago, such an idea would be almost unthinkable outside of clearly identified op-ed columns in major newspapers. In fact, journalists could lose their jobs for treading on such territory.

The point is that in an ideal world (if such ever actually existed), the media would not have a stated preference when it comes to the outcome of any election or national debate. They would present the information and positions of the parties involved and leave it up to the readers, viewers, and voters to make up their own minds. But that world doesn’t really exist anymore and nobody in the MSM is bothering to pretend that it does at this point.

What we’ve been witnessing for quite a while now, and particularly since the advent of Donald Trump on the political scene, is a form of media masochism. It is, at least in some ways, worse than the conflicts taking place out in the streets between the supporters of various ideologies and issues. Everyone holding a job as a professional journalist responsible for providing news to the public (as opposed to opinions and analysis) knows perfectly well what they’re supposed to be doing. It all revolves around “what, who, where, and when.” They were supposed to tell the public what they need to know, not how they need to feel about it. But that type of journalism basically doesn’t exist anymore, though some newspapers and cable news networks do a slightly better job of trying to hide it than others.

Is Donald Trump out to “destroy” the liberal media? Possibly. But every time he surfaces and they have to cover his activities, most of them are doing the job for him. Personally, I have no idea how well Trump will fare in the 2024 primary. (Noah seems to believe he won’t do well.) I’ve experienced a bit of burnout when it comes to Trump over the course of the midterms and there are clearly other Republicans with growing profiles (and a lot less baggage) who are interested in challenging him for the nomination. I’m happy to let the process play out and see where conservatives and Republicans around the country are leaning. We’re still almost two full years away from the next election. Let’s not lock ourselves into the fighting pits just yet.



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