In November 2000, I was 33 and thought I had it all figured out. I was a journalist. I reported on elections. I was politically savvy, I told myself.
I recall a conversation I had with my left-leaning Long Beach dentist. He was bemoaning the possibility of a George W. Bush presidency. Not to worry, I assured him. The president has little effect on our day-to-day lives. We’ll survive.
My goodness, I couldn’t have been more wrong. In eight years, Bush got the U.S. involved in two wars (one of which was entirely unnecessary and ridiculously costly in lives and treasure), collapsed the housing market and economy, alienated nations worldwide (even allies) and accumulated more than $2 trillion in debt.
Yes, I learned, the president can have a profound effect on our daily lives. As much as Republicans would like us to, we mustn’t forget the Bush era. Whom we elect this year will matter a great deal.
Personally, I find Donald Trump bombastic, bigoted, misogynistic, uncouth, even unhinged at times. He is loudmouthed, inexperienced (bordering on ignorant) and often incomprehensible. He should never be granted access to the nuclear codes. That, of course, means that Hillary Clinton must be our next president.
Trump’s meteoric rise to the top of the GOP confounds many, even within the Republican Party. How could this have happened?
In part, I blame the media for his ascendance, in particular the national broadcast outlets.
Too many in the media (though certainly not all) leapt in bed with Trump virtually from the moment he announced his candidacy. He has, after all, been a ratings bonanza for many media outlets, at a time when news organizations are suffering through something of an existential crisis.
Trump is a train crash, a tornado and a typhoon all rolled into one, a one-man wrecking machine, a destructive force beyond compare. Metaphorically speaking, he’s spilled a lot of blood over the last year –– and in the media, if it bleeds, it leads.
To the media, particularly the national broadcast media, I say, cut it out. Stop acting as his unwitting shills, publicizing his hateful agenda. Here are my suggestions for covering Trump in day-to-day, objective reporting, which I distinguish from commentary (like this column):
1. Stop referring to him as Mr. Trump. Reporters refer to Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Trump’s former GOP rivals by their last names only. Trump supporters add the honorific when referring to him, according him a higher degree of respect than he deserves. The media need not do the same.
2. Stop interviewing him in his penthouse, office, a hotel or a mansion. Speak to him in the same places that you do the other candidates. I was struck by CNN’s pre-Indiana primary coverage, when Trump was shown more than once in his posh environs, while Ted Cruz was interviewed by a muddy river on a dreary, gray day. If Trump won’t agree to your interview otherwise, don’t interview him. You shouldn’t pander away editorial control for the sake of cheap ratings. This isn’t reality TV, staged to attract maximal viewership. This is the news.
3. Stop repeating Trump’s pejorative nicknames for his opponents, none of which I’ll mention here. The media need not join in his steady chorus of middle-school bullying.
Trump is a marketer par excellence, a master brander — not only of himself, but also of his rivals. He repeats simple-minded insults again and again, until they stick in people’s heads. He’s exceptionally good at selling snake oil. The media shouldn’t aid his campaign by repeating his awful nicknames. They have hours and hours of his seemingly endless droning from which to choose sound bites.
During the first seven minutes of one national morning broadcast last week, I counted Trump repeating those nicknames 10 times. The broadcast was recycled eight times over four hours. That means the pejoratives were repeated at least 80 times in a single morning on a single network. And that’s a conservative estimate, given that I only watched seven minutes. With coverage like that, you might as well hand Trump the keys to the White House now.
4. Don’t repeat his cute little campaign slogans. When speaking with his supporters (which, of course, you should), don’t ask, So, why have you jumped aboard the Trump train? Simply ask them why they support him.
If a presidential candidate is to win over both Democrats and Republicans in a general election, he or she must moderate his or her positions to appeal to both sides of the political aisle. Trump hasn’t done that so far. Why should he? Too many media are lapping up his blathering and spitting it back in rapid-fire succession, without much thought –– and certainly no deeper reflection.
It’s about time the news media report on this election objectively — with true neutrality. That means digging deeper to deliver the facts, while also paying close attention to potentially biased language in the reporting.
Scott Brinton is the Heralds’ senior editor for enterprise reporting and staff development and an adjunct professor at the Hofstra University Herbert School of Communication. Comments? SBrinton@liherald.com.