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“How Do You Solve A Problem Like Donald Trump?”: All Media Is Political, Without Exception; Best To Be Honest About It

As Donald Trump has implausibly moved into a tie for first place in the GOP primary, there has been much discussion in media circles about how to treat his candidacy. Most media organizations (including The Week!) have published an inordinate amount of stories about Trump. The Huffington Post, on the other hand, recently announced it would move all coverage of Trump’s campaign to the entertainment section.

This sparked a backlash from some reporters, such as The Daily Beast‘s Olivia Nuzzi, who argued that such a move is an improper delegitimization of the tens of thousands of Trump supporters out there.  “[P]olling competitively and being a registered candidate makes him legitimate. End of story,” she wrote on Twitter.

It’s certainly true that The Huffington Post‘s action is a swipe against Trump’s many supporters. But it is also simply impossible for reporters — who are human beings, after all — to avoid some sort of judgment on the legitimacy of a presidential candidate.

As I’ve argued before, normative judgments are inherent to the practice of all but the very simplest journalism. To demand that Trump be covered like any other “legitimate” presidential candidate is to demand that journalists implicitly legitimize his ideas. On the contrary, it is right and proper for publications to decide how they view a candidate’s policy platform and overall persona; signaling that he will be treated like a trashy celebrity is one way of doing that.

I respect The Huffington Post‘s right to make coverage choices as it sees fit. I’m also not sure I agree with the decision to move Trump into the entertainment section. As Matt Yglesias argues, Trump’s highly unexpected success — especially given that it came immediately after he started up with bilious racist rants against Mexican immigrants — suggests there is a fairly wide constituency for gutter nativism. That is an important truth of our politics and our nation that should not just be shrugged off as some carnival sideshow.

Instead of banishing Trump to the land of Kardashians and superheroes, the media would probably be better off simply reporting on Trump with open contempt. His ideas are disgusting and he’s a vicious, racist bully. But it’s not wise to write him — or the ideas that he champions — off as a self-aggrandizing joke. There are a great many people who would eagerly sign on to an immigration-restriction agenda, and Trump would definitely not be the first colossal buffoon elected to the head of a major state.

And that brings me to Bernie Sanders, who has been the subject of multiple comparisons to Trump (including one from my colleague Damon Linker) as representing the two “extremes” of American politics. This, too, is a mistake by the media.

We’re all grasping for ways to deal with this brainless, hate-spewing hurricane who has somehow managed to attract the support of tens of thousands of Americans in spite of — actually, let’s be honest: because of — his hateful racism. Just as The Huffington Post‘s decision to write Trump off as “entertainment” is understandable, so too is the media’s search to find Trump’s polar opposite on the left in order to give some context to this flagrantly foolish carnival barker.

But to compare Sanders, a serious person with serious ideas, to a clown who rants about how Mexicans are mostly criminals and rapists, is inherently delegitimizing. Putting Trump in the entertainment section makes The Huffington Post‘s perspective clear. So does grafting Trump to Sanders — but in a backhanded and cheap way that’s unfair to the socialist senator from Vermont.

Trump’s racist views do have the support of a substantial minority. But Sanders’ agenda is far more popular. About three-quarters of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $10.10. Social Security is likely the most popular government program of all time — and 82 percent would raise the payroll tax across the board to keep it solvent. Sixty-eight percent support increasing taxes on the rich.

Now, that is not to rule out all positive coverage of Trump, or negative coverage of Sanders. Conservative publications will do both, no doubt, as is their right. The point is that coverage should be grounded in a clear normative view, not some faux-omniscient view from nowhere. All media is political, without exception. Best to be honest about it.


By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, July 20, 2015

July 22, 2015 - Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Media | , , , , , , ,


  1. I want Trump to win the GOP primary.


    Comment by renxkyoko | July 22, 2015 | Reply

    • And I hope he picks Joe Arpaio as his running mate!


      Comment by raemd95 | July 22, 2015 | Reply

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