Tod has a post Over There taking some conservatives to task on their complaints about the media allegedly unleashing a bunch of October surprises they should have approached more diligently at an earlier point in the cycle. I agree in parts, and disagree in others. I’m using these two terms somewhat loosely. But let’s review:

Conservative media critics really do need to let this go, for a variety of reasons. First, because it was first and foremost the job of the other candidates to get this out there. Second, because what happened with regard to the media was not only predictable, and predicted, but actually understandable in context and not remotely unique to Trump (except to the extent that Trump himself is unique). Third, the notion that the media sat on stories of this sort for this long to unleash it all in October is absurd. Fourth, and most importantly, the media presented more than enough information for the primary voters to discard him, and they didn’t.

That said, I really hope the media does take a step back and look at how it contributed to the situation. It did. While it’s very much not helpful for conservatives to complain about it because it’s deflecting. The truth is that everybody needs to be looking at their own behavior. That includes boosters and Republicans and conservatives first and foremost, but also the media. People who harbor less responsibility are too fond of simply pointing the finger at those who harbor more. The media got played. Its poor attention span, its attraction to the immediate, and its inability to figure out how to handle such a different candidate are things that they will hopefully do better next time. (Not optimistic about the first two, but think they may have figured out the third.)

It’s also worth noting that “the media” covers a lot of ground here. I was saying last week that print and (some) web did a much better job than television and television punditry. Most of my criticism is reserved for the latter. And to some extent the interaction between them.

Ultimately, though, the media coverage has changed. Partially because it flows from having an actual recording. While stories of this kind aren’t new, but the way that they’re being covered is. Where I really disagree with my #NeverTrump brethren is that I don’t think it’s anything strategic on the part of the media, or that it’s related to the fact that Trump ran as a Republican. Covering a primary race with a half dozen candidates is simply different than a two-person race. Coverage in the home stretch is different from coverage earlier on. The only substantive change is that at least a part of this may be a response to the media responding to criticisms from the left over the last month about how they were covering the race, which caused a re-evaluation. Sure, similar complaints from the #NeverTrump right went unheeded, but that really wasn’t the problem.

As Tod points out, the stories were out there but they were lost in a sea of other things going on. Including by us. Tod points out a number of stories that I was aware of but that never really penetrated. There was a lot happening. In a weird way, things actually sort of needed to get boring for things to heat up. The news cycle needed to give way for impossible-to-avoid wall-to-wall coverage that had before been muddled with horse race coverage that (since he was leading) almost necessarily put Trump in a positive light. And the Clinton scandals needed to die down (or focus had to be moved away from them).

And it’s not impossible in a couple of weeks this will all trail off and it’ll be an “oh, yeah” thing. We’re running out of time for that, though. And that was the case for anything breaking in October. The spinning bottle has to stop somewhere.

The theory that the press actually withheld these stories, though, has very little going for it. That’s just not what the press does. You run with a story before anyone else finds it, which means as soon as you get it and (hopefuly) do due diligence. There are isolated counterexamples, but the most famous (Bush+TANG) didn’t work out very well (the “due diligence” thing matters). Most of the time, October Surprises aren’t October Surprises because the media held on to it, but because the opposing candidate did. (I believe it’s entirely possible the Octoberness of this story is because the Clinton campaign competently worked it this way.)

Yes, Liz Mair and Rick Wilson have both said they were approaching the media with blockbuster stories while the primary was ongoing, but you have to think that through. If the media turned it down, it was almost certainly light on details. And, to be honest, a desperate appeal to the media to do the candidates’/consultants’ jobs. If they had a story on a silver platter, of course the media would run with it. And even in a world where they somehow decided not to, a Trump-skeptical conservative outlet would have. With enough work, the media would have had to cover the coverage, if nothing else. That was what happened with some of the Clinton archives unearthed by the Washington Free Beacon.

Given that most of the people complaining now are doing so in an “I Told You So” fashion, they ought to consider that they’re seeing what they’re seeing precisely because they predicted it. Dots connected in a particular way precisely because they correspond with predictions. It is true that we did warn them that coverage would turn sharply negative in the general election. It is true that coverage turned sharply negative in the general election. But that has as much to do with the weeds around it getting cut as it does a change in the thing that the weeds were surrounding. That was always visible, to those that wanted to see it.

Category: Newsroom

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8 Responses to Hellfire & Trumpstone

  1. Roy says:

    Sorry, but it’s all bull. I have been watching the three major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) and how they have been treating this election. In every evening newscast the very first lead of the election news is something negative about Donald Trump. Sometimes an event, such as hurricane Mathew, will knock the election off of the lead, but usually the negative Trump story is the lead. All three networks. Every night for a month now. A negative about Hillary Clinton rarely makes the broadcast.

    Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Every night for a month is enemy action.

    Face it. The news media is joined at the hip with the Hillary campaign. I know it. You know it. And this time, I think the whole country knows it.

    • Oscar Gordon says:

      Eh, Trump cast the self fulfilling prophecy. I don’t think candidates have to necessarily play nice with the media, but there is a high degree of realpolitik when it comes to media relations, and Trump eagerly shat upon any outlet that was not wholly in his camp.

    • trumwill says:

      Meh. I am just rightwing enough to believe that the press gave Obama a pass, but they’ve always been tough on Hillary and this campaign season has been no different. They’re tougher on Trump, but there’s a lot more to be tough on Trump about.

  2. RTod says:

    Good take.

    I agree with your separating the TV news and the print news. The TV people have been pretty universally awful. (Remember the night they all kept filming the empty podium?) It’s noteworthy (and likely no coincidence) that the reporters that were at various times banned from covering Trump events were almost all (or entirely all?) print reporters, not people on camera.

    As to the point that the coverage has changed: It has, but not (as I think you agree?) for partisan reasons. Instead, I think it’s a mixture of several things happening simultaneously, which make me think that although your point about the tape being “more” than a quote is correct, it wouldn’t have mattered much in the long run.

    Here’s how/why I thin the coverage has changed, for lesser to greater:

    1. To a lesser extent, some of these stories are being re-reported in a general election to a general mainstream audience. And much of how we armchair-measure news coverage is based on the reactions we observe with those consuming the news. For Trump, things that no one cared much about in the GOP base were genuinely horrifying to a larger audience. (He’s kind of the mirror-image of Romney in that way.) So some of the coverage has changed because, for example, sexual harassment is more of a story worth covering to one universe than it is to the other.

    2. To a greater extent, coverage changed because GOPers started jumping ship. THAT was what really drove the tapes coverage into high gear. And as Jason K has pointed out, the GOPers that were jumping ship were doing so for their own political skins; it had less to do with the tape content than it did we’d had two debates and Trump was going in the wrong direction fast in the polls.

    3. But the biggest reason coverage has changed is because a burning, sinking Carnival Cruise ship is more interesting than one that is slowly sailing into to port as expected. That’s true in any election, but it’s more so with this year’s. Trump has a self-destructive tendency to lose perspective, lash out at anyone and anything, and just generally lose control whenever there’s a bump in the road — and the more bumps he creates by this behavior, the more of a train wreck he becomes.

    Jon Ronson’s theory in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is that, for good or bad, the public tends to forgive (and sometimes even root for) a person it’s trying to shame if that person seems unfazed by said shaming. When they smell blood, however, they feel a need to push and punish harder. That certainly seems true of the way the public (and the TV and radio press) reacted the smug, smirking primary Donald Trump vs. the yelling, defensive, lashing-out general election Donald Trump.

    • trumwill says:

      The more I’ve thought about it, the more of this really does fall on TV. Zucker right now is saying “Gosh, maybe we shouldn’t have shown uninterrupted rallies during his rise. Oh, well, our bad. Great ratings, though!”

      And… that seems like one of the impetuses for change. Drifting away from ratings and towards “This stuff matters.”

      One other thing that I think bears emphasis. While you are right “This was all known before” I think a lot of people are seriously underestimating why this was such a bombshell. It’s not just that it was an offramp. Even if they were looking for an offramp, I don’t think (for instance) the Ivana thing would have been it even though it deals with the same subject-matter.

      The tape was huge because it was a tape. That alone changed things, by grabbing the attention of people that are not us and don’t read about this stuff day in and day out. Further, it provided something that the networks couldn’t really ignore (and would not have ignored during the primary season). I mention penetration, and that it was a video helped it penetrate. A lot. The tape, if not the revelations therein, does to my mind constitute an October Surprise.

      So, too, would a tape of Trump going on a racist rant, even though most of us suspect that he has.

  3. Jaybird says:

    Two things that Ken Bone teaches us:

    1) The second, and I mean the *SECOND*, that the media gets a piece of information that they think is juicy enough to get a click, the media will publish it. The argument that the media has enough restraint to hold something, *ANYTHING*, back longer than a couple of days is a crock.

    2) The media doesn’t like doing research if it’s tougher than, say, reading someone else’s Reddit history.

  4. greginak says:

    What i said OT was that there is at least one verified, because the peeps involved have talked about it, October Surprise going on. It’s the current stolen emails being released from various D figures to embarrass clinton. It started at the D convention with other stolen emails. Assanage said he wants clinton to lose and the feds believes the russians are behind the various hacks. So that’s one October thing a majig. People seem remarkable calm about. It helps, or hurts depending on your viewpoint, that the emails are mostly as exciting dry white toast. But there have been plenty of dirty tricks without even looking at His Trumpness.

    • trumwill says:

      As I say to Tod above, I think the tape does actually qualify as an October Surprise. So too do the WikiLeaks, though that was announced ahead of time. There’s not much mystery there. Assange said ahead of time that there was more and that they would release it for maximum effect. Which makes it a halfway surprise. The existence was telegraphed, but the specific content wasn’t.

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