‘The media’ certainly aren’t perfect, but major, serious outlets have given an accurate picture of Trump

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Donald Trump speaking in a cargo hangar at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Sunday.

I see plenty of people – who are themselves part of “the media,” – doing it, but I don’t blame the media for Donald Trump.

I’m looking right now at a New Republic piece, by Brian Beutler, titled “The Media Never Raised the Bar for Donald Trump.” In the late days of the campaign, Trump began exercising what was, for him, an unusual degree of what the smarties call “message discipline,” which means sticking to his assigned talking points, reading off the teleprompter and not ad libbing racist, sexist, Islamophobic, megalomaniacal or otherwise deranged-sounding things or encouraging his admirers to knock the crap out of protesters, such as he used to do in an earlier, less “disciplined” phase of his campaign. The other day, he went off script, to tell himself out loud to remain on script, bizarrely lecturing himself: “Stay on point, Donald. Stay on point. No sidetracks, Donald.”

Beutler is essentially arguing that “the media” is reporting that Trump is now staying on message, which distracts from the need to continue reminding voters that Trump is temperamentally unfit to be president. The subhead of his story summarizes it thus:

Reporters are treating his ‘discipline’ as a political masterstroke, when we should be horrified that his temperament remains an open question.

Here’s Beutler’s nut graph:

Donald Trump’s closing argument is that he can use a teleprompter. Not necessarily that the words he reads off the teleprompter are true or intelligent, just that he can say all of them out loud and in order. In the final days of this campaign, we have returned to where we began, with an odd fixation on whether this man who aspires to the presidency can avoid saying anything ignorant, bigoted, inscrutable, or otherwise disqualifying for an hour or so at a time, once or twice a day.

I don’t want to make Beutler’s piece into anything other than an example of the kind of things people say or write when they are trying to blame the media for Trump. His piece is not egregious, just typical. I note that he didn’t actually quote from a reporter who used the term “political masterstroke” to describe Trump’s new “on-message” persona. I don’t doubt that many reporters believe, and have written, that this is a smart move for Trump based on the assumption that voters are such idiots that if you can fake a new personality in the last week of the campaign, the electorate will forget everything you said and did before your sudden, unsubtle and unconvincing personality transplant. Beutler does quote from a “Yahoo News” piece in which the reporter, Holly Bailey of Yahoo News, wrote:

In what many around him took as a hopeful sign heading into the final stretch of the campaign, the Republican presidential nominee did not turn to Twitter to vent his frustration, as he would have in the past. Though he still regularly breaks from his prepared remarks — often to attack the ‘dishonest media’ to the delight of his supporters — Trump has been more pointed in making his case about why he should win the White House.

It’s a reasonable-sounding analysis of Trump’s newly discovered “message discipline” over recent days. It’s not close to describing it as a political “masterstroke.” But quoting one, not-exactly-world-famous journalist’s description of Trump’s latest attempted makeover, and pretending it was some kind of rave review, was necessary to Beutler’s effort to blame the media for the fact that Trump has recently managed a surge in the polls.

“The media,” and it’s certainly a term that requires some defining if one is going to make a case like Beutler’s, as a group is surely a powerful force in our nation. And the media aren’t perfect, far from it.

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But, contrary to that analysis, I would argue that “the media” as a whole have taken extraordinary measures to make sure the public knows who and what Trump is. They have certainly reported his ever-changing positions on issues, like exactly what he meant — and it turned out to be about eight different things and is currently in a state of near-nothingness, about his famous plan to create an exportation force to remove every undocumented immigrant, his laughable claim that he would get Mexico to pay for the magical border wall, or his math-and-logic-challenged “plan” to cut taxes massively for corporations and rich people while reducing the deficit. The point is, if you don’t know that Trump’s issue positions don’t add up, it’s because you don’t care to know, it’s not because “the media” didn’t report it.

The media have aggressively documented Trump’s lies, which should be a normal practice but in Trump’s case turned out to be a never-ending Sisyphean task because Trump, more so than any candidate I can recall, continues to repeat the same falsehoods after their falseness has been proven. (Regular readers of this space will recall my obsession with his lie to have been an early and outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq.)  Same deal. If a voter cares about whether a candidate is telling the truth, the collective news media has gone to unprecedented lengths to help that voter know that Trump is the biggest liar in presidential election history. If they haven’t learned that, or if they have repetitively unlearned and re-unlearned it every time it has been reported, it’s hard to blame the reporters for that.

It is, of course, possible to believe that some people live, presumably by choice, in a cocoon of self-reinforcing messaging. They look for their information to Trump’s tweets or talk radio jocks or publications that they have learned will reinforce their beliefs. To me, this is sad and maybe a little frightening. But it is the right of every American to get their news and information from the sources they choose.

It’s fun and easy to blame the media for whatever bothers you. I have often criticized the mainstream media. Our understanding of what exactly qualifies as “the news media” has changed dramatically from the days when it pretty much meant newspapers and the three network TV news departments. But, personally, I think that major, serious, fair-minded media outlets have risen to the challenge of offering the public an accurate view of Trump and his qualifications and fitness to be president.

Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by Christine Hansen on 11/07/2016 - 10:15 am.

    Yes, but

    have the “media” given us an accurate picture of Ms. Clinton?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/07/2016 - 11:02 am.

      Yes but yes

      They’ve given us both accurate pictures of Clinton,
      and accurate pictures of the untrue statements made about her, supported by documentation.
      ‘Balance’ means an accurate picture of both sides.
      It does NOT mean an equal number of positive and negative statements about both candidates when their records are not equal.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/07/2016 - 11:15 am.

      If you’re really interested in accuracy

      see http://www.factcheck.org.

  2. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 11/07/2016 - 10:28 am.

    Can’t quite agree Eric

    The “Media” may have covered Trump’s position on the issues, but that coverage was dwarfed by their coverage of anything salacious or vulgar. I’ve never bought the “Liberal Media” label, but the “Tabloid Media” label definitely fits for this election cycle.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/07/2016 - 11:14 am.

      Maybe because

      Trump’s ‘positions on issues’ are little more than slogans — there’s little to report past a headline.
      On the other hand, there’s no shortage of detail on his ‘salacious and vulgar’ activities.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/07/2016 - 08:39 pm.

    As do I

    “…I think that major, serious, fair-minded media outlets have risen to the challenge of offering the public an accurate view of Trump and his qualifications and fitness to be president.”

    So do I. It’s a frightening view, but I believe it to be almost painstakingly accurate. As the doting grandfather of a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old, one of each gender, I have watched, multiple times, almost every Disney and Pixar movie made since… whenever Disney and Pixar started making movies. One of my favorites has been “Zootopia.” For those not familiar with the film, the two main characters are Nick Wilde, a young-ish fox who’s a small-time confidence trickster, and Judy Hopps, a bunny who will be the first in her (large) family to move to the big city (Zootopia) from her folks’ carrot farm. To her parents’ dismay, she wants to be a police officer.

    When Mr. Trump and/or his supporters complain about the “crooked” or “biased” or “inaccurate” media, I’m reminded that, when The Fox in Zootopia, Nick WIlde, suggests to the Rookie Cop, Judy Hopps, that she can’t book him for a violation because “…It’s your word against mine,” her reply – to paraphrase, because I can’t remember the exact quote – is something like, “Actually, it’s YOUR word against yours.” She then pulls out her trusty pocket voice recorder (in the handy shape of a carrot) and plays back to him the quite illegal scam he just explained to her.

    He is not pleased to have his actual words coming back to haunt him, nor is Mr. Trump.

    I confess to little sympathy for either Wilde or Trump in that situation.

    A later edit: I’m inclined to agree with Joel’s analysis, but would add the caveat that personally, I make a distinction between the printed word and television. Plentiful print sources (sadly, not so much the ‘Strib, the editorial board’s endorsement of Clinton notwithstanding) have provided ample evidence over the course of this ugly and lengthy campaign of Trump’s near-constant lies, plus a dozen other character and performance flaws that make him unfit for any public office, much less the highest one in the land. Multiple print sources have also pointed out the relative triviality of Clinton’s mishandling of email.

    The same does NOT hold true for television news. Local network outlets barely qualify as news organizations, and have fallen prey to the usual litany of errors laid out by other commenters, especially the curse of false equivalence. There are legislative races where both major-party candidates are plausible legislators, and the people running for office seem in the great middle of the population for character and trustworthiness. In those situations, treating the opposing candidates as roughly equal seems sensible to me. That’s absolutely NOT the case (in my view) in the presidential race, where nothing remotely resembling equivalence exists between the two major-party candidates. That Trump’s bloviating is reported faithfully as if he were speaking factually when he obviously was making things up speaks – but not well – to the quality and trustworthiness of local television news, as well as the candidate.

  4. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 11/07/2016 - 01:15 pm.

    Three characters in pursuit of Trump

    To understand and learn from your mistakes is the only way to get better. Don’t dismiss your failures. Had the media done their job correctly, a man as totally unqualified as Trump wouldn’t be this close to being President. Based on what he has said he thinks and would do, worst case in a world depression and a war in which major US cities are destroyed, with millions of lives lost. So, yes it is important,

    Here are three media characters. First the Rip van Winkles who slept through the alarm. With 17 Republican candidates, it was too hard to vet them all, so they didn’t, playing the let’s pin Hillary to the tail of the donkey game. They didn’t start to vet Trump until the party had started.

    Second, they were the comedy club attendees. As they had to cover a too long election, Trump was an amusing distraction. Sort of like Kids Say the Darnedest Things. The assumption was he was a joke that wouldn’t be seriously considered. Dead wrong on that, Those of us saw him immediately for the risk he was were ignored,

    Finally, frustrated weathermen, sportscasters and entertainment reporters. The weathermen focused on polls like the daily high, suggesting a single weather report is revealing of climate trends, The would be sportscaster viewed it as a horse race whether everyone makes their bets, the leaders change during the race, a winner is called and the channel changes. Finally the entertainment reporters focus on the flash and sparkle, hoping to catch celebrities fall on their faces / not literally like Gerald Ford, but figuratively.

    These things made for shallow reporting that never focused on substance. Here is the standard we once had / Walter Chronkite / and others in his league. Pure newsmen with high standards. The news has become the media, and looking and sounding good now matters than actually knowing what you are talking about.

    It is simply inconceivable that a man as sick, arrogant and uninformed as Trump could be where he is if the media knew what it was doing. Saying things that are false or misleading is something politician do, but detached fact checking does not make up for inept reporting.

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 11/07/2016 - 02:52 pm.

      I like Joel’s analysis, which looks very carefully at the makeup and motivations of the mainstream media and how that played into making Trump a major candidate. Add to that, the Trump-all-the-time money motivation of journalists’ masters that has given us stem-to-stern live video of most of Trump’s rallies and campaign stops (on Fox and CNN), and they created him. Social media just made it all worse, mixing in rumor as truth.

      The New York Times reported yesterday that Trump’s staff has taken his Twitter account away from him (as one would take a toy from a child). A staff person curates or moderates every Tweet that appears to be from him. He is trying to read others’ words on Teleprompters, too. They are hoping that the American voter will have forgotten the awful stuff he has said and done, so they and PAC ads can soften the prevailing image of him.

      A candidate whose speech has to be controlled by others so he doesn’t do more harm to himself.

      Think about that!

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/07/2016 - 01:26 pm.

    The gap between reality and perception has rarely been this wide and blatant. A replay of a video-tape is a lie and a conspiracy.

    Oddly enough, it’s the same mind-games that people in a totalitarian society buy into. Take a look at North Korea and their “dear leader”.

  6. Submitted by Michael Hess on 11/07/2016 - 01:48 pm.

    Shared blame, back in primary days

    The Media gave overweight attention, in general, to primary candidate Trump, he was the carnival barker in a sea of boring similarly suited candidates – he said and did unexpected things and the media lavished coverage on him like the celebrity he was.

    However the other Republican primary candidates own a lot of the blame for Candidate Trump. If you went back to those key early stage primaries, and you added up the votes of the more conventional republican candidates they suggest that fewer candidates would have favored the more qualified on the slate as the primary voters going for the Rubios, Kasich etc… votes would have concentrated on fewer Trump alternatives. Ego, and shortsightedness led too many of them to enter the race, with apparently the lack of self-awareness to know that some of them really had no chance. If they were trying to position themselves for a VP spot go run a state, don’t run for office. And then to make matters worse they spent their time attacking each other, vying for the same voters.

    Anyway then you had Candidate Cruz who cynically appeased Trump and his followers thinking foolishly Trump would sputter out and he would sweep up their votes. Trump played him beautifully, in the end dispatching him as part of the solution and part of the institution even though he’s barely tolerated by his colleagues.

    What a mess.

  7. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 11/07/2016 - 03:30 pm.

    Pat yourself on the back

    I feel so much better that the liberal media is critiquing itself and coming to the conclusion that the “major, serious outlets” of the establishment media are “accurate.”

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/08/2016 - 08:13 am.

      We’re supposed to feel ashamed and look to Breitbart and the “fair and balanced” Fox for examples of journalistic rectitude with respect to Trump?

      What exactly has been “inaccurate” about “liberal media’s” covering of Trump ? What pearls of true greatness and fitness for Presidency were missed ?

      Your favorite media outlets are doing you no favor if they led you to believe that Trump was the least bit qualified, let alone the candidate of the century.

  8. Submitted by chuck holtman on 11/07/2016 - 06:37 pm.

    Ms. Hansen’s comment above is on the mark.

    I don’t fault the establishment media for the way they have covered Trump. If you need the media to do more to show you how profoundly unfit Trump is for any public office, there’s nothing more to be said.

    But what the media have done is to obsessively hype Clinton non-scandals, propagate Trumpian memes about Clinton without exploring the mendacity or delusion on which they rest, report on everything but actual issues and crises at stake and how the candidates would approach them, and employ every false equivalence in the book so that Trump’s sociopathy, his substantive vacuum that he is happy to fill with any retrograde and corrosive social force that will bring him votes, becomes equated to Clinton’s “corruption” based on … I don’t know, whatever, and we end up with two “equally disliked” candidates, and therefore a choice that strikes just enough uninformed, unthoughtful people as nominal.

    More broadly, the establishment media have spent all the decades of my adult life making the public uninformed, passive and unfit to understand what one must do to fulfill one’s duty as an electorally participating citizen. Without this Trump could not exist on the public stage. This is the more consequential indictment.

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/07/2016 - 08:21 pm.

      Agreed

      I’m inclined to agree with your last paragraph, and would argue only that a primary reason why it’s turned out that way is that – with the dangers of state-run media widely apparent – we’ve chosen privately-run media in a society that’s relentlessly capitalist. That is, what drives news coverage is not so much substance or importance, but profit. This seems especially true to me in regard to television, which is, sadly, how far too many Americans get their news. Ratings drive every facet of television, but more particularly, and more detrimental to a society that depends upon knowledgeable, engaged citizens to function as it should, those ratings drive TV news operations. Instead of policy discussions (boring…) we get stories about puppy rescues, or the latest robbery at gunpoint, or (among my favorites) raging fires or similar events in areas far removed from the Twin Cities. Why are they being shown? Because there’s video available, and television is primarily a visual medium. Pictures of houses burning or distraught relatives of a murder victim draw more viewers than a pair of talking heads discussing tax policy or defense appropriations.

  9. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 11/07/2016 - 10:51 pm.

    Whose lies

    So Trump is unfit because of his temperament? What about Clinton complete disregard for security (she should not have ignored the obvious fact that, as a Secretary of State, she would have gotten some classified info sooner or later)? And of course Trump is always called a liar by (liberal) media but not Clinton (http://www.npr.org/2016/09/22/494919548/new-york-times-editor-we-owed-it-to-our-readers-to-call-trump-claims-lies) even though her lies are much more obvious (“landing under fire”). And no, PolitiFact is not impartial so they cannot be a proof that Trump is more untruthful than Clinton. By the way, as I previously said, I am not a Trump fan…

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/08/2016 - 08:59 am.

      Politifact.com

      may not be impartial (it’s a project of the Tampa Bay Times).
      My reference was to factcheck.org which IS as impartial as any source you’ll find.

    • Submitted by chuck holtman on 11/08/2016 - 10:55 am.

      To repeat

      After a review of tens of thousands of emails, Clinton was found to have two on her unsecured system with a small “c” meaning classified. And apparently there was some statement she made about landing under fire.

      Here’s 129 tweets from Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek reviewing Trump’s past frauds, lies, business relations with corruption of the highest order and all manner of other past acts proving beyond any possible doubt that he would be incapable of ever acting in the U.S. interest, in the interest of ordinary salt of the earth Americans, or in any interest other than his own:

      http://www.rawstory.com/2016/11/kurt-eichenwalds-huge-list-of-trump-failures-destroys-gop-nominees-self-proclaimed-business-prowess/

      You are not a Trump fan, I am not a Clinton fan, but can we agree not to devolve into a mush of the falsest equivalence?

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 11/08/2016 - 08:49 pm.

        Equvalency

        Mr. Brandon, I looked at Factcheck.org and they seem to be relatively objective in evaluating Trump’s and Clinton’s statements. However, under the Final Push title, they checked almost twice as many Trump’s statements than Clinton’s. I don’t have time to check how they pick what statements to verify and if this constitutes bias against Trump.

        Mr. Holtman, Clinton chose to have a private server with (supposedly) full knowledge that a Secretary of State must deal with classified information all the time so it should have been obvious to her that what she did was not secure. So we are not talking here about lies (even though she did lie about her server many times) or whether she should be indicted but about her cavalier attitude towards security of the State which, in my mind, is making her unqualified for being a president. And of course, Eichenwald is not impartial.

        I hate false equivalences – there are so many of them around now. But Clinton and Trump are both unfit but for completely different reasons so I don’t see an equivalency here. You see, I am not a Trump’s fan and I say this about him. If you are not a Clinton’s fan, can you say this about Clinton? Then we can agree that we live in sad times…

  10. Submitted by joe smith on 11/09/2016 - 09:11 am.

    How’s that portrayal today?

    It is Wednesday morning and I guess regular Americans all across this country didn’t feel the way the “media” feels… Not shocked that folks who work hard for a living don’t buy into the liberal elites thinking.

  11. Submitted by Jim Million on 11/10/2016 - 11:25 am.

    A Media Wake?

    Not an unknown process of congregate reinforcement. As a matter of practice, historically regular support gatherings to feel better about themselves.
    I wonder if they even know who/what died?

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/12/2016 - 09:49 am.

    The only serious question…

    If we’re going to critique the media, or the media is going to critique itself, the only serious question is: “Why did the media ignore the Sanders’s campaign and promote the narrative of Clinton’s inevitable nomination?” Getting facts straight about Trump is kind of a meeting minimum requirement’s claim but selling Clinton’s nomination put Trump in the White House.

    So Mr. Black, not to attack or anything but let me just ask specifically and pointedly, when these campaigns began you referred repeatedly referred to Clinton as the “prohibitive” or presumptive nominee (correct me if I’m wrong). Why did you do that?

    The fact that media simultaneously ignored Sanders while obsessing about Trump gave us this election. let’s talk about how and why THAT happened.

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