The media vs. Donald Trump

Ezra Klein with a nice piece on why journalists feel so comfortable openly criticizing Donald Trump.  And though Ezra uses the term “bias,” far more than anything, it is the norms of political reporting very much work against Trump:

But slowly, surely, the media has turned on Trump. He still gets wall-to-wall coverage, but that coverage is overwhelmingly negative. Increasingly, the press doesn’t even pretend to treat Trump like a normal candidate: CNN’s chyrons fact-check him in real time; the Washington Post reacted to being banned from Trump with a shrug; BuzzFeed News published a memo telling reporters it was fine to call Trump “a mendacious racist” on social media; the New York Times published a viral video in which it simply quoted the most vile statements it heard from Trump’s supporters.

This is not normal. There are rules within traditional political reporting operations about how you cover presidential candidates. If Marco Rubio had won the Republican nomination, he might have lied in some speeches, but CNN’s chyrons would have stayed dull. If Ted Cruz had been the GOP’s standard-bearer, he, like Trump, would have kooks at his rallies, but it would be seen as a cheap shot for the New York Times to record the worst of their vitriol and send it ricocheting across Facebook. If Jeb Bush had banned the Washington Post from covering his campaign over charges of bias, the paper would treat it as an existential threat…

the media is increasingly biased against Trump. He really is getting different, harsher treatment than any candidate in memory. That he deserves it is important context to the discussion, but not, I think, the whole explanation…

But Trump short-circuits all that. You can criticize him sharply and be applauded, both publicly and privately, by senior Republican figures. The most despairing, hysterical commentary I’ve heard about Trump this cycle has been from Republicans speaking off the record — including Republicans who have endorsed Trump! In this way, the “evenhanded” view of Trump that emerges from traditional reporting is that he’s a dangerous maniac — Democrats say it, and so too do many top Republicans. [emphasis mine]

Yep.  Having many in your own party against you explodes the faux even-handedness so much political journalism is based upon.  And that’s not because reporters dislike Trump, but this will happen to any politician  leading a divided party (especially one this divided– conflict bias!) over a relatively unified one.

That said, there is more to it.  I think this part about “cosmopolitan bias” is really good:

But the national press is undoubtedly cosmopolitan in its outlook — it is based in New York and Washington and Los Angeles, and it prizes diversity, tolerance, pluralism. Within newsrooms, these ideas aren’t seen as political opinions but as fundamental values. There is no “other side” worth reporting when it comes to racial equality, no argument that needs to be respected when it comes to religious intolerance or anti-LGBTQ bigotry.

More than Trump’s campaign is conservative, it is anti-cosmopolitan. Trump’s comments on Mexicans, on Muslims, his reaction to the Khans and to Megyn Kelly, his jingoism and instinctual mistrust of immigrants — all of this amounts to an anti-cosmopolitan ideology that really does run him smack into a deep-seated bias in America’s urban newsrooms.

This is the subtext for a smart column my colleague Matthew Yglesias wrote about the racial resentment powering support by Trump. Journalists want to be empathic and respectful toward Trump’s supporters even as they’re appalled by much of what Trump is saying, and by even more of what his supporters are saying.

And, actually plenty more good stuff in there, too.  I just tossed it on my syllabus, so you should read it, too.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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