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“Wallowing In Self-Pity”: Can Trump Whine His Way To The White House With Complaints About “Biased” Media Coverage?

That was quite a temper tantrum Donald Trump threw at his press conference this week.

Irked that news reports raised questions about his promised donations to American veterans and their charities, Trump responded by denouncing the political press as “disgusting” and “among the most dishonest people that I’ve ever met.” Trump even dismissed one ABC News reporter as “a sleaze,” and mocked another from CNN as “a real beauty.”

Trash talking the press is hardly new for Trump. During the primary season, he routinely set aside time at rallies to denigrate journalists as “scum” and “disgusting”; attacks his supporters often amplified in person and online.

What made Trump’s meltdown this week so noteworthy, and probably what shocked the Beltway media, was that it came during the general election campaign season, where these kinds of vicious, personal attacks coming directly from the presumptive nominee are unheard of.

“Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, assailed those reporting on his candidacy with a level of venom rarely seen at all, let alone in public, from the standard-bearer of a major political party,” The New York Times reported. (GOP media bashing is most often handled by surrogates and by Republican allies in the press.)

Yes, some previous Republican nominees have chastised the press, sometimes with glee and sometimes with genuine disdain. “Annoy the Media: Re-elect Bush” bumper stickers were a favorite among Republicans during George H.W. Bush’s 1992 re-election run. Sen. John McCain’s campaign denounced The New York Times for an article it published in 2008 detailing McCain’s closeness to a lobbyist. (Many people read the article as an implication of an affair between McCain and the lobbyist, but the paper eventually updated it with a “Note to Readers” saying it “did not intend to conclude” that the lobbyist had “engaged in a romantic affair” with McCain.)

But overall, McCain enjoyed warm relations with reporters during his 2008 run, and those previous press attacks weren’t nearly as ferocious and personal as Trump’s are today. (Can you imagine Bush Sr. calling an ABC reporter a “sleaze” during a 1992 press conference?) Those attacks were never seen as being a pillar of a November campaign, the way Trump is promising his media insults will continue in coming months.

What Trump’s doing is employing a right-wing talk radio dream strategy, where whining about the so-called liberal media is elevated and presented as a pressing issue facing America.

And that’s why Rush Limbaugh was so ecstatic in the wake of Trump’s public tantrum. “That was the kind of press conference Republicans voters have been dying to see for who knows how many years,” the talker gushed. “Trump felt the need to correct the record today and did so in his own inimitable way, which basically attacked the media for dishonesty and corruption.”

Fox News’ Peter Johnson Jr. was equally animated. He cheered Trump for “saying, ‘I have a message, you may not like it, but you’re not going to take me down. I will be heard fair and square. I will either win or lose. But I will not lose because of an unfair media.’”

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with questioning the press and holding journalists accountable. But that’s not what Trump’s doing. He’s wallowing in self-pity without producing any proof of media malfeasance. Trump can’t point to any factual errors in the reporting on his charitable giving; the story that set off his most recent anti-media screed.

Complaining about so-called liberal media bias has been a hallmark of the conservative movement for decades, and has sometimes been featured as a sidebar during presidential campaigns. Trump now wants to move it to the main stage. But hurdles appear on the horizon.

First, he’s already won the Republican primary, which is more likely the season to energize hardcore supporters with allegations of media manipulation. That’s why this same anti-press crusade worked so well last November in the aftermath of the contentious Republican Party primary debate hosted by CNBC. Virtually all the candidates and most of the conservative media joined forces and issued indignant denunciations of CNBC’s allegedly dishonest debate moderators. The swarm served as a unifying ritual of outrage for the conservative movement.

Trump’s now in the general election and needs to expand his base beyond the true believers. To be successful in November, he’s trying to lure voters who have likely voted Democratic in the past and who don’t identify as Fox News fanatics. It’s less likely those types of crossover voters will be motivated by allegations that the press is out get Trump.

Secondly, a sizeable portion of the conservative media infrastructure isn’t supporting Trump. In fact, in a bizarre flip of the script previously documented by Media Matters, during the primary season some key conservative media voices have actually criticized the Beltway press for being too soft on the Republican nominee. So if there are Republican-friendly pundits on the record saying the press needs to be tougher on Trump, that obviously blunts the candidate’s claim that the “biased” media’s being too tough on him.

There’s also the issue of temperament and the fact that most voters think Trump is severely lacking in that area. A Fox News poll last month indicated 65 percent of voters don’t think Trump has the “temperament” to serve as president, and a CNN poll in May found the number was even higher: 70 percent.

Regularly staging campaign press conferences in coming months to pick fights with reporters is unlikely to improve Trump’s standing there.

Already committed to running a completely unorthodox campaign, Trump’s now gambling that press attacks can produce votes in November.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, June 3, 3016

June 4, 2016 Posted by | 1st Amendment, Donald Trump, Liberal Media | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“This Is An Old Story”: Presidential Debates Often Stink. But It Has Nothing To Do With ‘Liberal Media Bias’

Republicans are divided about many things, but one thing they all agree on is that the news media are out to get them, and when they fail, it isn’t their own fault, it’s because of the dastardly liberal media. So it was that the biggest applause in last night’s debate came when Ted Cruz unloaded all the righteous indignation he could muster on the moderators of the debate.

“The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” he thundered. “How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?” He added that it was the result of liberal bias, noting: “The contrast with the Democratic debate, where every fawning question from the media was, ‘Which of you is more handsome and why?’”

He wasn’t alone. “I know the Democrats have the ultimate SuperPac. It’s called the mainstream media,” said Marco Rubio. Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie added their own media critiques.

And they’re half right. There were plenty of problems with many of the questions the candidates got asked. But it has nothing to do with liberal bias.

This is an old story. Republicans began complaining about media bias back in the 1970s, and you can count on every losing presidential candidate to begin whining about it within a couple of weeks of their defeat. The idea that the media are biased against Republicans has been woven deeply into conservative ideology, to the point where they’ll trot out the assertion on every issue, whether there’s any evidence to support it or not.

Let’s take, for example, Cruz’s assertion that the Democrats got softball questions in their first debate. That wasn’t how I remembered it, so I went back and read the transcript. Here are some of those softballs. To Hillary Clinton: “Plenty of politicians evolve on issues, but even some Democrats believe you change your positions based on political expediency…Will you say anything to get elected?” And the follow-up: “Do you change your political identity based on who you’re talking to?”

To Bernie Sanders: “You call yourself a democratic socialist. How can any kind of socialist win a general election in the United States?” To Martin O’Malley: “Why should Americans trust you with the country when they see what’s going on in the city that you ran for more than seven years?” To Jim Webb: “Senator Webb, in 2006, you called affirmative action ‘state-sponsored racism.’ In 2010, you wrote an op/ed saying it discriminates against whites. Given that nearly half the Democratic Party is non-white, aren’t you out of step with where the Democratic Party is now?”

Those were the first questions each candidate got. The question to Clinton presumed she’s a phony, the question to Sanders presumed he’s an unelectable extremist, the question to O’Malley presumed he left Baltimore in tatters, and the question to Webb presumed he doesn’t belong in his party.

Like the CNBC debate, the first Democratic one had some good questions and some silly ones. But the defining characteristic of almost every debate in recent years is that the journalists doing the questioning go out of their way to try to create drama.

Sometimes they do it by saying “Let’s you and him fight,” encouraging the candidates to criticize each other. Sometimes they do it with the old Tim Russert technique of accusing candidates of hypocrisy and seeing whether they can worm their way out of it (which is no more enlightening now than it was when Russert was employing it). Sometimes they do it by asking candidates who are behind or falling in the polls why things are going so badly, which never yields anything more interesting than the opportunity to watch the candidate squirm a little. Sometimes they do it by asking trap questions of the “Have you stopped beating your wife?” variety, which have no good answers. Sometimes they do it with inane personal queries (“What’s your favorite Bible verse?”) that test nothing more than the candidate’s ability to say something forgettably banal.

In every case, the question involves more of a pose of confrontation than actual journalistic toughness, which would involve taking the candidates’ ideas seriously, forcing them to be specific where they’d rather be vague, and holding them accountable for not just their gaffes but the consequences of what they propose to do.

So how did we get here? I put the blame for this problem on the late Bernard Shaw. Televised presidential debates started in 1960, and while there were a couple of dramatic moments in debates prior to 1988, they arose in organic and unpredictable ways. But Shaw taught his successors that the questioner could manufacture a dramatic moment with the right question. Be clever enough about it, and your incisive query would be repeated on every news show and in every newspaper for days.

In 1988, Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis had been a lifelong opponent of the death penalty, a topic of substantial discussion on the campaign trail. As the moderator of the second debate between Dukakis and George H.W. Bush, Shaw could have explored this topic in any number of ways. With the debate’s first question, he said, “Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”

When Dukakis answered by explaining for the umpteenth time why he opposed the death penalty, reporters declared it a huge “gaffe,” presumably on the rationale that in order to have answered the question properly, Dukakis should have said, “Well, if it was my wife, I’d completely change my position on the issue!”, or perhaps that he should have shouted, “I’d rip him limb from limb, I tell ya!” They never explained exactly what the proper answer should have been, but they declared Dukakis a heartless automaton for not showing enough emotion in answering Shaw’s idiotic question.

And Shaw himself was proud of his heroic effort. “I was just doing my job, asking that question,” he said years later. “I thought of Murrow taking on McCarthy. That was the essence of what I wanted to be: Fearless, not afraid of the scorching bite of public criticism.”

Ever since, the journalists who serve on these debate panels have tried to frame questions in ways they think will create those dramatic moments everyone will be talking about the next day. But it almost never works.

The CNBC debate featured some good questions, some terrible ones, and a bunch that were somewhere in between. The next debate will probably not be much different. One thing we know for sure is that no matter what, Republicans will complain that the media are biased against them, and their supporters will cheer.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, October 29, 2015

October 30, 2015 Posted by | Liberal Media, Mainstream Media, Presidential Debates | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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