We have seen the future, and it is last week.
It was a week in which Donald Trump refused to release his tax returns after having said he would. In which he said he hadn't said what he said about barring Muslims from the U.S. In which he said he would take Republican blood money after saying he wouldn't. In which he said he would tax the rich after saying he wouldn't. In which it was discovered that his former butler is a raving racist who advocates killing President Obama, as well as publication of an expose revealing that cowering behind Trump's claims of being a champion of women is a boy-man who uses and abuses women to feed his ego and lust for acceptance and power. But none of that mattered as he continued to dance away from the truth, whatever it might be, in a fusillade of boasts and insults on Twitter.
That the news media -- ranging from Fox News to CNN and from the National Enquirer to The New York Times -- allows Trump to dominate news cycle after news cycle, willingly much of the time and only rarely unwittingly, is becoming the biggest story of this election year, topping even the emergence of The Donald himself. (The other big stories? The Republican Party finally screwing the pooch and Bernie Sanders' long goodbye.)
Trump is a master media manipulator with years of practice, but he also is ratings bonanza for whom damage control is walking back a statement and then piling on even more. "He is the first candidate to truly take advantage of the fact we are an A.D.D. society," notes Republican strategist J. Tucker Martin. "He moves so quick and creates outrages so fast, you almost forgot what happened."
Eleven of the 13 political stories on the website of the august and supposedly above-the-fray New York Times on Saturday were entirely or mostly about Trump, including one listing some 217 places, people and things he has insulted on Twitter since he announced his campaign last June. How presidential.
Am I getting something fundamentally wrong here? Is the media just doing its job, albeit badly? Is there an obeisance to so-called objectivity that I'm missing? Nah. Didn't the media fail to take Trump seriously for far too long and now doesn't take him seriously enough as his positions and even his principles change by the day? Yup.
How extraordinary -- yet in a way how predictable -- that the racist backlash against Barack Obama the Republican Party has leveraged to win elections is now manifesting itself as the party's death wish in the form of a Frankencandidate named Trump, yet the media has assiduously ignored this fundamental truth in giving him far, far more "earned media" -- free time and free ink as opposed to ad-buy time -- than any candidate evah no matter how inane or factually suspect his blatherings may be. And in doing so has blatantly mischaracterized the pitchfork populists drawn to Trump as upwardly aspiring Americans hamstrung by an economically stacked deck. There is much truth to that, but it masks the stench of racism.
"It may not be good for America, but its damn good for CBS," chirps Leslie Moonves, the network's head honcho in an astonishingly candid admission that the man with the small hands and peculiar hair is a golden goose. "The money's rolling in and this is fun. I've never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It's a terrible thing to say. But bring it on Donald. Keep going."
Donald has, of course, kept going.§
In the context of the media's mania for him, the big questions are whether Hillary Clinton is being harmed by a lack of exposure and whether she can successfully counteract Trump's ability to lie and obfuscate with impunity.
With Election Day nearly six months away, the lack of exposure is not a problem. The Big Dance won't really commence until after the parties' national conventions are over, and the Republican confab is shaping up to be a prime-time version of Apocalypse Now with Trump playing Colonel Kurtz. While making for entertaining television, this also should be a boon to the Democrats because it will be the first opportunity for some voters -- and I suspect few haven't already made up their minds -- to see what a one-man horror show Trump really is.
The question of whether Clinton can successfully push back against Trump is more difficult to answer.
This is because beyond one-to-one encounters like presidential debates, Trump will have a powerful ally -- a news media that has taken a presidential campaign that was demanding of informed, responsible and vigilant coverage and turned it into a plunge down an electronic rabbit hole by obsessing on Clinton's real trust issues and phony email controversies while validating a celebrity fascist with a qualms-absent free ride.
POLITIX UPDATE IS WRITTEN BY SHAUN MULLEN, A VETERAN JOURNALIST AND BLOGGER FOR WHOM THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IS HIS 12th SINCE 1968. CLICK HERE FOR AN INDEX OF PREVIOUS COLUMNS.© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN.
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