Shortly before the election, Newsweek went to press with an issue commemorating Hillary Clinton’s victory. They made a business decision and took a calculated risk, and they lost. But some of the inside front cover copy caught my attention:
…But as the tone of the election went darker and more bizarre by the day, President-Elect Hillary Clinton “went high” when her opponent and his supporters went ever lower….
Well, maybe. Much of Hillary Clinton’s campaigning was built around the notion that she is not Donald Trump. But, in any event, she didn’t have to run a negative campaign. The media ran it for her.
It’s normal in politics to favor one candidate over another, and it’s normal (and appropriate) to point out a candidate’s shortcomings. Ultimately, the voters assess the good and the bad about the candidates, and make their decision.
Donald Trump has made many insensitive remarks, some of them borderline racist. But there is a big difference between making a racist remark and being an actual racist. We all know people who are given to running off at the mouth and saying stupid things, but we know that they don’t mean anything by it. (Alternately, there are some who would say that racism is America’s original sin and that we’re all racists. But even then, there is a big difference between a mere sinner and a Ku Klux Klansman.)
The media seemed to overlook this essential difference. Perhaps it’s that in the modern world, no story is worth telling if it can’t be told in five seconds. Perhaps it helped to sell newspapers.
And Trump refused to play the game. He could have walked back his statements and gotten all mumbly, and shown himself to be Just Another Useless Politician.
The media came to tell us that Trump is not just a man who runs off at the mouth, he’s a racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic bigot.
It’s normal in politics for a candidate to call his opponent nasty names. But among politicians, there are limits: after all, you might need a favor from your opponent, or his party, in the future. This is the first time I’ve seen the news media vilify a candidate on their own power.
In fairness, there have been radio announcers and other public figures who lost their jobs over making insensitive remarks. It’s totally OK, when assessing candidates for office, to make a similar judgement and hold a candidate’s remarks against him. It’s OK for a newspaper to run an editorial endorsing whatever candidate the newspaper prefers, under whatever criteria they care to use. What isn’t OK is for a newspaper or TV network to let their editorial viewpoints color their non-editorial reporting of events.
Perhaps it makes for exciting television. But it can backfire, not just for the news media, but for the rest of us: what happens if the ‘evil’ candidate wins?
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In other news, South Korea has been overtaken by political protests: people are very angry at their President, who is resisting calls to resign. It seems that Madam President in Seoul, among other things, has been sharing government secrets with a female personal advisor who has no security clearance.
And we’ve hardly heard a peep about it in the US. I wonder why….