I hate Donald Trump. But the media really is treating him unfairly.
With all his lies and exaggerations, you don't need to twist or misrepresent what he says
To say that I'm not a fan of Donald Trump would be an understatement. Even when he just announced his candidacy I was already howling in pain and shame.
I don't just disagree with Trump on the issues. I don't just think he's a bad person. I don't just think he's mentally unstable. I think the combination of those things, plus the angry identitarian movement he built, plus the weakness of American institutions and the power of the imperial presidency (plus nukes), pose a genuine threat to the continuation of the republic.
One of the things that reveals Trump's total lack of character is his total inability to take responsibility for anything he ever does. He once defended himself for getting into some media feud by proclaiming the other guy "started it." He says horrible things and then complains like a little girl about the "dishonest media" who "attack [him] viciously" for not having the self-restraint to behave like a civilized person, let alone one who would be leader of the free world.
And one of the reasons why Trump is so toxic is because he enables everybody's worst impulses. Including all the media. With all the lies, all the exaggerations, all the ridiculousness that spews forth from his mouth, the media still finds ways to twist and misrepresent what he says. They just can't help themselves.
Take a silly thing. The press said that Trump was "attacking" a crying baby and his or her mom at a rally. The baby cried. Trump said he didn't mind it. And then he said he did and asked her to leave. Except that if you watch the video, it's clear that Trump is joking the second time he says it. He's not "attacking" anybody.
Take another recent example: Trump's comments about nuclear weapons. Many people, Hillary Clinton and myself included, have cited the fear of Trump having access to America's nuclear arsenal as a reason to oppose him. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough made a lot of headlines citing what he said was a national security bigwig who had spoken to Trump and said the latter had asked three times in one hour, "If we have nukes, why can't we use them?"
The press ran wild with it. Nevermind that this is a third-hand account, which means we have no way of knowing what actually happened — if anything. Trump might simply have been asking honestly about how deterrence works. Nuclear policy is a somewhat obscure topic even if you're a career politician, and not being afraid to ask dumb questions when you don't know the answer is actually an attractive attribute in a leader.
Hillary Clinton loves to bring up Trump's refusal to rule out nuking ISIS as proof of his unpredictability with the nuclear arsenal. This is ironic given that in 2008, Hillary Clinton hammered one Barack Obama as irresponsible for ruling out the use of nuclear weapons against al Qaeda. The U.S.'s nuclear deterrent depended on unpredictability, she explained, so Obama was just too green and too immature to be president.
And take last week's stupid Trump controversy. The GOP nominee, we're informed, believes Barack Obama founded ISIS. Those are words Trump said. It's also true that Trump has trafficked in insane conspiracy theories, so, who knows. But does he actually mean it literally, in the way that when he links Ted Cruz's father to the JFK assassination that's literally what he means to imply?
Actually, no. Trump means it figuratively — he means that Obama's policies caused the rise of ISIS. Journalists keep pointing to an exchange with the radio host Hugh Hewitt, where Hewitt asks, "You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace?" And Trump responded, "No, I meant he's the founder of ISIS." That sounds pretty straightforward, but as The Federalist's Mollie Hemingway correctly notes, if you keep listening to the tape for literally one minute, Trump goes on to say, "I mean, with his bad policies, that's why ISIS came about" and "If he would have done things properly, you wouldn't have had ISIS. Therefore, he was the founder of ISIS." I know Trump only speaks in word salads and that makes things a little tricky sometimes, but it's still not rocket surgery to figure it out. (Trump even pointed out the obvious. )
Well, that's still a totally outrageous thing to say! Really? Was it outrageous when the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency said Bush created ISIS? Or when The New Yorker ran a piece titled "Did George W. Bush Create ISIS?"? (By the way, who's the real founder of ISIS? Bush, or Obama? Both, actually.)
But the media lapped it up. Journalist Twitter exploded with glee when CNN ran the following chryon: "Trump Calls Obama Founder of ISIS (He's Not)." Many people said they wished the network would do this sort of "live" "fact-checking" more often, and not just for Trump. This is part of a broader narrative among left-wing journalists that journalists shouldn't report "both sides," but just the side they agree with. That chyron isn't audacious fact-checking; it's moronically literalistic.
I hate Trump, and I hope he loses. But I fear one consequence of his candidacy will be an even more biased press in the future.