Who’s to blame for Donald Trump?
One answer is the Republican Party. The GOP elite, the indictment goes, opened the door for a telegenic talker brashly promising easy solutions to complex problems by ignoring faithful working-class Republican voters who were angry over their economic pain at a time when the party’s upper echelon were prospering.
Another answer is the news media. Prosecutors in this case claim news organizations aided in the birth of the Trump phenomenon by giving him a forum to play to voter resentment with false claims and blatant misstatements unfettered by fact-checking or background investigation.
Some of the most astringent critics of the news media’s role in empowering Trump are influential members themselves of news organizations. Doubtless they are haunted by the infamous performance of the press in the 1950s as an unwitting accomplice of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Wisconsin’s contribution to the darkest chapters of political persecution and demagoguery in American history.
To this day, journalism students are taught that the press enabled McCarthy’s witch hunt by blandly reporting his charges against those he falsely targeted as Communists or Communist sympathizers without context or analysis. News organizations reported McCarthy’s words accurately, lending them credibility, but the words were lies.
Some of that has been evident in the Trump coverage, mainly that of television news organizations that were well aware that Trump is a mesmerizing entertainer, a surefire ratings booster when he’s on a screen. The uncritical coverage lavished on him by some cable outlets adds to already abundant evidence that television news programs are often more about entertainment than communicating information.
The New York Times analyzed the free publicity given to presidential candidates and determined that the amount given Trump, which was far more than any other candidate, was the equivalent of $1.9 billion worth of advertising.
This was provided, ironically, by institutions Trump purports to loathe. Frequently tossing out the term “disgusting reporters” at his boisterous rallies, he ridicules members of the press and has incited his followers to become so agitated they’ve roughed up newsmen and women. Trump’s campaign manager was charged Tuesday with battery for manhandling a female reporter working for an online news service at one of the rallies.
After a slow start, a number of daily newspapers are putting Trump’s statements to a truth test. Newspapers are publishing ratings of Trump’s veracity by PolitiFact and are doing their own in-depth reporting on the candidate’s claims. The findings? An astonishing accumulation of Trump falsehoods, deceptions and assertions that reveal an abject ignorance of, or contempt for, American values. PolitiFact, an investigative team on the Tampa Bay Times with affiliates in a national network of newspapers, has found that by a wide margin Trump is the least truthful of any presidential candidate of either party. For PolitiFact’s 2015 “lie of the year” award, so many statements by Trump were contenders that the organization gave the title to “the many campaign misstatements of Donald Trump.” Of 117 Trump statements analyzed, PolitiFact found 90 that were mostly false, false or in the top lying category—pants on fire.
Separate newspaper investigations have shone light on such bullet points on Trump’s checkered resume as his overrated business career, which includes four bankruptcies, and the allegations of fraud at Trump University.
Both electronic and print media have done thorough reporting on Trump’s public record of misogyny in his long list of crude-bordering-on-depraved comments about women.
This is the same Trump who is the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination and could conceivably become president of the United States.
Who’s to blame for this appalling prospect? Hold the Republican Party accountable for some of it. Put some blame on the news media too. But that doesn’t cover it.
The angry voters who early on were entranced by a candidate who seemed to share their rage and speak their language can get a pass. But now the cat is out of the bag and the facts are there for anyone who wants to read them. Trump has been exposed as dishonest, uninformed on the subjects a president needs to know about and contemptuous of basic human civility. From now on, win or lose, Trump is the voters’ responsibility.