Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times, and always one for public self-flagellation, has whole-heartedly embraced the idea that “we in the media” have “empowered” Donald Trump. This is incorrect.
According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, barely half of GOP primary voters said that they’d be satisfied with Trump as their nominee, as opposed to nearly three-quarters who said they’d have been satisfied with Romney in March 2012 and more than three-quarters of Democratic primary voters who’d be satisfied with Hillary Clinton.
Altogether, the survey found, nearly two thirds of American voters have a negative opinion of Donald Trump. This tracks with The Huffington Post’s Pollster tool, which shows, in the aggregate, that 63.1 percent of voters have an unfavorable view of Trump.
Moreover, about half of Republican female primary voters said they could not conceive of voting for him. In fact, women have what The Intercept described this week as possibly “historic” dislike for Trump.
All of which is to say that Donald Trump, despite being the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, is, in fact, wildly unpopular—especially amongst people who don’t vote in Republican primaries. And yet, Kristof wrote in his column today:
I polled a number of journalists and scholars, and there was a broad (though not universal) view that we in the media screwed up. Our first big failing was that television in particular handed Trump the microphone without adequately fact-checking him or rigorously examining his background, in a craven symbiosis that boosted audiences for both.
“We in the media.” There is no “we in the media.” Within platforms or across them: What NBC News does has nothing to do with what CNN does, and even less to do with what the Times does. What is more, Kristof can’t even seem to make up his mind about whether the “symbiosis” is craven or inevitable.
I don’t know if more fact-checking would have mattered. Tom Brokaw of NBC did outstanding work challenging Trump, but he says that when journalists have indeed questioned Trump’s untrue statements, nothing much happens: “His followers find fault with the questions, not with his often incomplete, erroneous or feeble answers.”
Likewise, Bob Schieffer of CBS tells me: “I’m not sure more fact-checking would have changed that much. We’re in a new world where attitude seems to count more than facts.”
Again, they are discussing a man two thirds of the country think is Bad and Wrong. Tens of thousands of immigrants are applying to becoming naturalized citizens in order to vote against him. About eight in 10 voters of color have an unfavorable view of him, according to a recent NBC News/SurveyMonkey tracking poll, with about seven in ten saying they had a “very unfavorable” view. Approximately 86 percent of black voters viewed him unfavorably and 75 percent of Latino voters.
To claim that such a person has been “empowered” by anyone other than the most racist and bigoted Republican primary voters is patently absurd, and anyone who suggests otherwise is eliding fact that the GOP has been courting the racist vote for 40 years.
But, to the extent that it is even sensible to speak about a category as broad as “the media,” which encompasses a range of methodologies and ideologies, and in turn to hold such a category accountable for having contributed in some way to the rise of Donald Trump, the responsibility lies in having indulged Republican politicans’ coded language and dog-whistle politics for the past eight years. What “we in the media” insisted was dead and buried has simply clawed its way to the surface now to clutch at our ankles.
The only hint of truth Kristof manages to stumble into is here:
We were largely oblivious to the pain among working-class Americans and thus didn’t appreciate how much his message resonated. “The media has been out of touch with these Americans,” Curry notes.
Media elites rightly talk about our insufficient racial, ethnic and gender diversity, but we also lack economic diversity. We inhabit a middle-class world and don’t adequately cover the part of America that is struggling and seething. We spend too much time talking to senators, not enough to the jobless.
This is certainly true! Journalists of all stripes would be far better served spending a lot more time covering what politicians do than what they say, but here we are. And, in fact, given how unfavorable Trump is viewed more broadly, isn’t it possible that widespread coverage Trump—his insults, his misogyny, his racism, his scams, his bluster—has ensured that general election voters are...informed? Hmmm.
Despite some outstanding coverage of Trump, on the whole we in the media empowered a demagogue and failed the country. We were lap dogs, not watchdogs.
Speak for yourself.