Sunday, October 23, 2016

November 9th: The media's day of reckoning

Frank Bruni (New York Times Sunday Review) writes about the media's complicity in the rise of Trump. All bets are that Trump's day of reckoning is on November 8th. The media will need to face their part in the clear and present danger presented by Trump the day after. (h/t Sherry Moreau)

The media’s responsibility for Donald Trump’s political success will be debated for a good long while, with the network honcho Les Moonves’s words about Trump’s candidacy (“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS”) front and center. But almost from the moment that Trump entered the 2016 presidential race, he has been a justifiably huge story. A lead in the polls became a lead in the delegate count and then, surreally, the nomination of the Republican Party.

Was he ridiculous? Beyond measure. Relevant? Beyond doubt. As long as the reporting about him was skeptical — and, after a certain point, the bulk of it was — there was more reason to train the spotlight on him than to pull it away.

That’s about to change — bigly. He is bound to lose the election, and we in the media will lose the rationale that his every utterance warrants notice as a glimpse into the character of a person in contention for the most consequential job in the world.

But he will remain the same attention-whoring, head-turning carnival act that he is today. And we will face a moment of truth: Do we care chiefly about promoting constructive discussion and protecting this blessed, beleaguered democracy of ours? Or are we more interested in groveling for eyeballs and clicks?

We need rules for quitting him, guidelines for the circumstances in which coverage of him is legitimate and those in which it isn’t. That distinction is all the more crucial because he seems poised to undermine important institutions and the democratic process itself. We can lend that effort more credibility or less by paying rapt attention to it or not.

He’s already teeing up a stunt: his possible rejection of the election returns. How much should we indulge this tantrum, and for how long? If Trump actually marshals the necessary strategy and resources for legal challenges in states where the results allow them — if he hires lawyers and files paperwork — that’s an indisputably newsworthy development. If he simply rages? That’s not.

The greatest power resides with the audience — which bears much of the culpability, too. Never before have news organizations been able to judge so quickly and accurately what our consumers respond to. If those consumers hadn’t demonstrated such intense interest in Trump, we probably wouldn’t have, either. And if they turn from Trump, they can be sure that most of us will, too, without much equivocation or delay.

But we can’t place all of this on their doorstep. There are adjustments we should make, regardless of metrics.

One is tonal. Trump’s mendacity, viciousness, vulgarity and lack of preparation encouraged a kind of political journalism that wasn’t just adversarial but outraged, urgent, mocking — and rightly so. An uncommon peril called for an uncommon approach. The pitch of the commentary had to match the peculiarity of the moment. But that style can’t become the new normal, not in a country that’s already this polarized. We should dial it down after Trump.

We can’t outright ignore him, because there are important post-mortems to be written, because he’s a central character in the drama of where the G.O.P. goes from here, and because he has captured the imaginations and vented the frustrations of tens of millions of Americans.

But we also can’t roll over for him, the way we’ve sometimes done over the last 16 months, chronicling even those speeches and rallies that amounted to sales pitches for his properties and products. His reckoning comes on Nov. 8. Ours comes shortly after that.

Let's hope that after Nov. 8 we hear more about our problems and their solutions that better the United States of America and less about Trump and his insistence on tearing us apart.

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