Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Donald Trump, Media Darling

Last night, Donald Trump abruptly pulled out of Thursday's Fox debate. Moreover, he did so via a statement that included references to his best-selling book and the amount of his net worth, characterized the candidate as "an extremely successful person" who was "show[ing] guts" merely by deigning to run for president, and actually, literally included the sentence "Roger Ailes and Fox think they can toy with him, but Mr. Trump doesn't play games."

I'm trying to think of any candidate in the history of American politics who could get away with anything close to a stunt like this without the press either ripping him to bits or measuring him for a straitjacket. Sure, some people mocked Trump online for being scared of facing Megyn Kelly, or played "get-a-load-of-this" with some of the passages in his statement, but it's getting impossible to ignore the mismatch between the outlandishness of Trump's behavior and the degree of acceptance in the media. Trump's sustained popular success has scrambled the minds of the press to such an extent that the ordinary rules of coverage simply don't apply. Imagine the media response if Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush ever acted once like Trump does as a matter of course.

It's easy to see why Trump is treated differently. Trump's antics are entertaining. He's a once-in-a-lifetime political phenomenon. His continued lead in the polls has dramatically exceeded expectations (always a good formula for positive news coverage). In fact, his performance at this stage of the race has so throughly contradicted conventional wisdom that some in the media seem to hold him in awe as a genius who has discovered previously unknown laws of the political universe.

It's not the job of the press to stop Trump, or to try to influence the outcome of the nomination process on behalf of any candidate. But he's sure getting a pretty easy ride these days compared to the competition, thanks simply to the results of the polls he is so fond of quoting.