For most supporters of Donald Trump, asking whether the mainstream media are unfair to their candidate is like asking whether the sky is blue.
But some people who are not Trump fans are raising the same question. Writing on the liberal website The Daily Beast, left-wing journalist and Bernie Sanders supporter Michael Tracey argued last week that because virtually no one in the “prestige” press is pro-Trump — even among those who usually back Republicans — the bias against him is so rampant it imperils our democracy. Do members of the Fourth Estate need to do better?
There is little doubt that the negativity in coverage of Trump by mainstream media outlets is in a class by itself. But so is Trump’s behavior.
Yet Tracey and other media critics argue that, Trump’s faults aside, his words and actions are routinely interpreted in the worst possible light. As an example, they cite last month’s reaction to Trump’s campaign-rally declaration that President Barack Obama is “the founder of ISIS,” the Islamist terror group. Was it ridiculously pedantic for some media fact-checkers to point to the actual terrorist leaders who really founded the Islamic State?
In fact, Trump seemed to insist on a literal reading of “founder of ISIS” to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who gave him an opportunity to walk it back — though he went on to say that “the way [Obama] got out of Iraq, that was the founding of ISIS.” Should Trump get credit for trying to have it both ways?
What’s more, Trump’s rhetoric at the rally where he also said ISIS was “honoring” Obama sounded very much like a deliberate appeal to many of his supporters’ belief that Obama is a secret radical Muslim. Worse, Trump insinuated as much in a Fox News appearance in June, saying that Obama was either too weak to confront Islamist terrorism or “he’s got something else in mind.” In that context, it’s no wonder that his inflammatory talk was not given a charitable reading.
Does Trump sometimes get a bum rap? I am one of the few outside Camp Trump to believe his claim that he didn’t make a menstruation joke while complaining about aggressive questioning by Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly (“blood coming out of her wherever” seemed more a rambling continuation of “blood coming out of her eyes”). But even in that case, there’s a reason Trump doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt: He has made so many outrageous and crude remarks about his foes that no one would put such a dig at Kelly past him. This is a man who mockingly mimicked a reporter’s disability.
The truth is that, by any objective standard, candidate Trump has so many disqualifying things on his record that the most negative media coverage can barely keep up. Who can count all the gaffes and revelations, each one of which would have sunk any other contender early on — from the comment impugning Sen. John McCain’s war record because he was a POW to the evidence of lies about charitable donations? This is not to deny the obfuscation habits of Hillary Clinton and her campaign; but Trump is in an entirely different league.
Last week, after reading the media criticisms, I resolved to try to be open-minded about Trump. Since then, he has once again praised Kremlin thug Vladimir Putin as a strong and effective leader; suggested that we should have seized Iraq’s oil after the 2003 invasion because “to the victor go the spoils,” the thinking of a medieval warlord and not the leader of the free world; promised to blow Iranian vessels out of the water over rude gestures; and faced more phony-charity exposures.
So much for “Give Trump a chance.”
Cathy Young is a regular contributor to Reason magazine and Real Clear Politics.