Virtually everyone I know – Democrats and Republicans alike – is completely flabbergasted by the rise of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. I mean, wasn’t he a tacky, third-rate reality TV show blowhard just a year and a half ago?
Maybe so – but he’s managed to defeat all the actual serious Republican candidates and is the Party’s nominee for the President of the United States. And if that doesn’t scare the pants off of you, I don’t know what will.
So how did we get here? Of course, the fact that the system is rigged against all of us in the 99% – and Trump has tapped into that – is a big part. The anger and anxiety Americans feel is legitimate, and supporting Trump is a way to flip the bird to the political and financial elites for those on the right. Some of Bernie’s most vocal advocates have similar motives on the left.
While the media isn’t responsible for Trump’s garnering the GOP nomination, there’s no question it played a large role in how he rose so far so fast.
I know I’m old school but I really do believe that serious journalism is the essential “Fourth Estate” that keeps democracy functioning – it serves a watchdog role that keeps elected officials and the judiciary more or less accountable for their actions. Plus I know many journalists who take their jobs seriously and produce high-quality reporting. So I knew we were in big trouble when I read what CBS Chairman Les Moonves said about the Trump candidacy a few months ago: “It may not be good for America, but it's good for CBS."
It seems that media outlets became more obsessed with ratings than concerned about covering those individuals running to become arguably the most powerful person on the planet. Trump’s outrageous comments (about immigrants, Muslims, women, Republican rivals, you name it), pugnacious interviews and violent rallies attracted millions of eyeballs – while stories about his business record and actual policy positions were ho-hum for a public accustomed to a steady diet of reality TV shows and Buzzfeed articles.
And whatever happened to fact checking? Like “The Donald’s” allegation that Mexicans in the U.S. are largely criminals yet the actual statistics show that Mexican immigrants have a lower rate of committing crimes than native-born Americans? And what about his recent statements that American terrorists like Omar Matten, the deranged shooter at the Orlando GLBT Latinx event and San Bernardino’s Syed Rizwan Farook were immigrants? Except...not!
There have been exceptions, of course – the New York Times, The Guardian, NPR and PBS come to mind. And God bless the Huffington Post who added this disclaimer at the end of every article about Trump: “Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar,rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”
Nevertheless, mainstream media producers and editors generally chose to run wall-to-wall “infotainment” on the campaign rather than performing their duty to inform the public about things that actually matter in the presidential race.
But even though the media didn’t take their responsibility seriously enough for the last year or so, the good news is that there are four and a half months left in the campaign. There is still time for the media to make it right and cover this race with the seriousness and decorum that it deserves. We're waiting...