photo by Esther Vargas
Presidential candidates love journalists.
They love them so much that they keep them as close as possible, ferrying them on the campaign plane, providing press galleries at rallies, plying them with fast food and even faster Wi-Fi. All because they want reporters to do the best possible job of conveying the unvarnished truth to the American electorate.
And if you believe that, please email me so I can sell you some $1,000 VIP tickets to the after-party that will celebrate my award for Best Actor at next year’s Oscars.
Candidates accommodate the press because they, not to mention their consultants, subscribe to Michael Corleone’s principle that you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer. I promise you, they do not see impartial journalists as their friends.
So what should we make of a candidate who kicks journalists he sees as hostile off the bus – or off the plane or out of the rally space – and leaves them to their own devices? Is he ill-advised? Impetuous? Unafraid or indifferent to however they portray him? Convinced beyond doubt that his best source of advice is himself?
I’ll go with yup, yup, yup and yup. In fact, I will go along with just about any characterization you want, except for one. Such a candidate is no more hostile to the press than pretty much any other, especially one whose staff has been known to literally corral reporters in a walking enclosure while the candidate strolls nearby in a parade.
The candidate with the big boot for reporters? None other than Donald J. Trump, of course. Oh, and the one with the portable press corral expects to be running against him this fall on the Brand X ticket; buy the product now and you can find out what is in the box later.
Once a landlord, always a landlord, I guess. Trump cannot seem to stop himself evicting reporters, most recently those from The Washington Post. He thinks they have treated him unfairly. They join a long list of other reporters he has bumped from their reserved seats for the same reason. But as they say in the psych wards, just because he’s paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get him. In a lot of these cases, they are.
Trump has a legitimate beef with the way he is regularly portrayed in The Post, including the headline that intimated he blamed Obama for the mass shooting in Orlando. Along with some other publications, The Washington Post gives every impression of being on a mission to portray Trump not only as an undesirable presidential candidate, but as a wholly unacceptable one, no matter how many living voters may choose otherwise.
I lost respect for The Post’s political reporting four years ago when, on a similar mission, it attempted a ridiculous hatchet job on Mitt Romney. A day after President Obama – finally – evolved his view into supporting same-sex marriage, The Post detailed in more than 5,000 choice words how a teenaged Romney allegedly led an attack against a presumptively gay schoolmate that involved cutting the schoolmate’s long hair. That’s it. The sources of the story were several surviving classmates who “mostly lean[ed] Democratic,” one of whom volunteered for Obama’s 2008 campaign.
The target of the attack, who had apparently never mentioned it to his siblings, had died in 2004. His surviving family issued a statement disavowing any knowledge of the supposed attack, claiming there were unspecified factual inaccuracies in The Post’s attempt at an expose and decrying that their late brother was being used to “further a political agenda.” In my view, he clearly was. Romney said he did not remember the incident The Post described, though he did apologize for any schoolroom pranks that “might have gone too far.”
Of course fellow journalists are outraged at Trump’s supposed manhandling of the media. Frankly, I think it is absurd and pointless to try to keep reporters from attending public events as members of the public, which they are. In fact, I think it is counterproductive, since having to come face-to-face with actual Trump supporters might force at least one or two journalists to consider the possibility that not everyone who plans to vote for Trump is a deranged neo-Nazi racist. Let ‘em in, Donald, but let ‘em stand in the back with the hoi polloi.
And as for journalists, go out and dig all you want. The Post notes that it is hard at work on a book – not just a 5,000-plus word article, but a whole book! – on the life and times (more likely the life and crimes) of one Donald J. Trump. No word on whether the Brand X candidate should expect a similar treatment from Post journalists. But don’t hold your breath.
The Post has every right to publish pretty much whatever it wants about Trump, just as it had a right to dredge up whatever it thought it dredged up about Romney four years ago. Trump, in turn, has every right to carry, or not carry, whomever he chooses aboard Air Force Trump. I doubt the voting public will be any less informed because of it in the end.