There’s been a lot of talk in the past few days about “presidential temperament,” and where that quality is concerned, Brian Beutler firmly believes that President Obama has the right stuff. In a Friday piece, Beutler lauded Obama’s "unflappable" performance at CNN’s military-themed presidential town hall Wednesday at Fort Lee in Virginia. By contrast, Beutler opined, Donald Trump "lost his composure about 15 minutes into the first presidential debate." And if Hillary Clinton can so easily throw Trump off his game, Beutler suggested, then who knows what Putin might accomplish?
Tom Johnson covers mostly websites (e.g., Salon, Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos) for NewsBusters. He blogged frequently for the site from 2005 until 2007 and has been a regular contributor since 2011. From 1989 until 2002, he was an entertainment analyst for the Media Research Center and its spinoff, the Parents Television Council. From July 2004 until June 2005, he monitored National Public Radio for the MRC. He is a graduate of the University of Arizona.
Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at NYU, is one of America’s best-known left-wing media critics. Last weekend on his PressThink site, he delved into “the precepts and maxims I have used to understand press behavior during this long and startling campaign season.” Rosen’s main point is that even though Donald Trump “is not a normal candidate and can’t be covered like one,” generally the media are covering him as if he were normal. As Rosen put it, “asymmetry between the parties fries the circuits of the mainstream press” and has left it unable to see Trump as a product of Republican extremism and dysfunction, whereas “Hillary Clinton, for all her problems…is a conventional politician running a conventional campaign that observes the norms of American politics.”
Unlike a lot of his fellow liberals, Jonathan Chait doesn’t believe presidential-debate moderators should be on-camera fact-checkers, but Chait’s reason for opposing the idea is unambiguously anti-conservative. In an item posted a few hours prior to Monday night’s Clinton-Trump clash, Chait argued that the way Republicans dealt with Candy Crowley’s intervention in a 2012 Romney-Obama debate “suggests the party would never tolerate such a role by the media on an ongoing basis,” given that “the GOP exists within an epistemic bubble that creates its own reality and disregards the findings of mainstream experts in economics, science, and other fields…Conservatives created this alternate ecosystem precisely to insulate their side from scrutiny from journalists who were not working within the conservative movement. And the simple reality is that, if debates become forums for media to subject candidate claims to fact-checking by the standards of independent arbiters, Republicans will refuse to participate in them.”
According to one left-of-center blogger and one right-of-center professor, a major takeaway from the 2016 presidential contest is that ideological conservatism is unpopular, even in the Republican party. Samuel Goldman, a political-science prof at the George Washington University and a frequent contributor to The American Conservative, stated that the “great message” of Donald Trump’s campaign “is that there really are not that many movement conservatives” in the sense of average Americans “who are vested in a conventional combination of limited government, a relatively hawkish foreign policy, and a sort of religiously inflected public morality.” From the left, The Washington Monthly’s Martin Longman alleged that for most Republicans, policy ideas take a back seat to raw resentment: “‘Small government’ and ‘local control’ and ‘free enterprise’ and the rest of the GOP’s ideological playbook simply never had much appeal to their base except as signifiers for Trumpian impulses to smash outsiders and oddballs and anyone who discomforts them.”
In the presidential debate this coming Monday, Peter Beinart wants moderator Lester Holt to set a tone that the moderators of the subsequent debates would maintain. Each should “confront [Donald] Trump in ways they’ve never confronted a candidate before,” wrote Beinart earlier this week. “The more audaciously he lies, the more audaciously they must tell the truth. The risks of doing so are tremendous. The rewards are being able to say that when Donald Trump threatened American liberal democracy like no candidate in modern history, you met his challenge square on.” Beinart noted that “since Trump has largely stopped giving interviews to anyone except campaign sycophants and celebrity lightweights, the debates may serve as his last encounter with actual journalists.”
A current hot topic in campaign coverage is Hillary Clinton’s underperformance among millennials, an unusually large number of whom favor the second-tier candidates, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. Brian Beutler thinks those 18-to-29-year-olds who aren’t #WithHer don’t grasp what happened the last time a significant portion of the left was lukewarm about the Democratic nominee: 2000, when lefty votes for Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the White House. Should some millennials’ non-support of Clinton lead to a Donald Trump presidency, argued Beutler, “it will be the consequence of a liberal failure to build an oral tradition around the Bush administration…[the] plutocratic fiscal policy; the 9/11 intelligence failure; the war of choice in Iraq sold with false intelligence and launched without an occupation plan; the malpractice that killed hundreds in New Orleans; the scandalousness that makes the fainting couch routine over Clinton’s emails seem Oscar-worthy; and finally to the laissez-faire regulatory regime and ensuing financial crisis that continues to shape the economic lives of young voters to this day.”
In a Wednesday piece, GQ writer Drew Magary told Trump supporters, "If you vote for him, you’re not making America great again. You are killing it. You are telling the world that America isn’t worth it. You are telling the world that all of our big talk about freedom and unity and ideals is just a load of shit, and that you would prefer a smoldering dystopia where freedom is just a flimsy cover for evildoing, led by a man who believes that strength is measured only in killing people."
Many consider Donald Trump an anomaly in the Republican party, but they really shouldn’t, suggested New York’s Chait in a Tuesday piece. Chait argued that the GOP which nominated Trump for president is pretty much the same GOP which has freaked out for several years over the Affordable Care Act. As Chait put it, “Republican hatred of Obamacare exemplifies the madness that left its elite unable to stop Trump.”
A current MSNBC personality just passed the half-decade mark as a host on the channel. A former MSNBC personality who’s made plenty of comebacks just made another one. The Washington Monthly’s D.R. Tucker praised each man to the skies this past weekend. Tucker called Chris Hayes "the classiest man on cable” and opined that from the get-go, he was brilliant, “an engaging, charismatic host whose mind moved faster than Usain Bolt’s legs." As for Keith Olbermann, now of GQ, Tucker gushed that Olby "recognizes that conservatism…is a metastasizing cancer within the American body, and that if that cancer is left untreated, the American body will be consigned to hospice care."
Liberals often allege that the media are too tough on Hillary Clinton and not tough enough on Donald Trump. Taibbi is left of center and anti-Trump, but he thinks the quantity and quality of those complaints are “getting ridiculous,” and that the main problem isn’t bad campaign coverage -- it’s dopey voters. “We are less than two months from the possibility of one of the dumbest people on the planet winning the White House,” wrote Taibbi in a Friday piece, “and it seems that all anyone's talked about this week…is the lung capacity of Hillary Clinton…That sucks. But it's not all the media's fault.”
Hillary Clinton was recently diagnosed with pneumonia. Barack Obama was not born in Kenya or anywhere else other than Honolulu, Hawaii. So what do Hillary fact and Obama fiction have in common? Marcotte has a sexism- and racism-related explanation. “The feigned concerns over Clinton’s health strongly resemble the feigned concerns that Obama was faking his natural born citizenship,” she wrote in a Tuesday piece, “right down to the posturing about how this is all the target’s fault for not providing more and more documentation -- to drive home how much those of us who aren’t white men cannot be trusted. In both cases, it’s about wallowing in ugly stereotypes -- that black people aren’t patriots, that women are inherently fragile -- without admitting that’s what’s going on.”
To borrow the title of a Clint Eastwood movie, liberals are having trouble with the curve -- specifically, the curve which they claim the media are using to grade Donald Trump. President Obama and Paul Krugman are among those who’ve raised that objection. Esquire blogger Pierce agrees with them, but he also asserted in a Sunday post that the media’s supposedly lenient treatment of Trump is “nothing new…Hell, we've been grading Republicans on a curve for decades. We graded Reagan on a curve when he burbled about trees and air pollution…We graded [George W. Bush] on a curve for the whole 2000 campaign when he didn't know Utah from Uzbekistan, but Al Gore knew too much stuff and what fun was he, anyway? We graded Republicans on a curve when they attached themselves to the remnants of American apartheid.”
Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment isn’t just campaign fodder, believes Brian Beutler, who in a Monday piece argued that by telling “impolite truths,” Clinton pulled an already-loose thread and may have furthered the unraveling of the GOP. Assuming Donald Trump doesn’t become president, some Republicans will “wish to dislodge Trump and Trumpism from the party,” observed Beutler, but he doesn’t think they’ll succeed if they underestimate the prevalence of bigotry among Trump’s supporters. Unfortunately, he noted, “anti-Trump conservatives remain uncomfortable admitting the scope and severity of America’s racism problem.” In other words, for those conservatives to achieve their goal, they’ll have to concede that Hillary’s allegation was essentially correct.
Journalists are cynical grouches who like dragging people down, suggests author and former Fox News Watch panelist Gabler. The rich and famous are inviting targets, especially if journos sniff a scandal. Take Hillary Clinton and Tom Brady, who in Gabler’s view "have been victims of the media’s strong predisposition to presume guilt, whether there is evidence for it or not."
On Wednesday, Michael Tomasky, apropos of a challenge the media face in covering Donald Trump, mused that “‘objective’ news reporting -- and this is a real crisis with no easy answers -- is ill-positioned to call a lie a lie.” On Thursday, Tomasky urged the media to upgrade their position by taking certain “drastic measures” that “Trump has forced…upon us” as a consequence of his lying “literally most of the time he’s talking.”
Complaints from liberal pundits about media bias against Hillary Clinton have snowballed during the past few days. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman had the most high-profile effort, which contrasted “the impression that [Donald Trump is] being graded on a curve” with “the presumption that anything [Hillary] does must be corrupt,” and some of the others have taken aim at Krugman’s newspaper for its Hillary-hounding. For example, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo sniped semi-sarcastically that the Times “appears to be revisiting its 'whitewater' [sic] glory days with its increasingly parodic coverage” of the Clinton Foundation and accused the paper of having “a decades' long history of being [led] around by rightwing opposition researchers into dead ends which amount to journalistic comedy…especially when it comes to the Clintons.”
Penn State professor and Bernie Sanders enthusiast Sophia McClennen has a message for her fellow progressives: “If the thought of a [Donald] Trump presidency worries you, the thought of a Trump news network should scare the hell out of you.” McClennen’s Monday piece for Salon addressed reports that if Trump loses to Hillary Clinton, he, Steve Bannon, and Roger Ailes may start a competitor to Fox News. McClennen expects that a Trumpcentric media business would be “founded on the same principles we have seen in place during his campaign: hate mongering, extreme nationalism, xenophobia, misogyny and a total lack of connection to reality. If the campaign seemed to have fascist tendencies, imagine a news network founded on those same principles.”
At the Democratic convention, Bill Clinton accused Republicans of fabricating a “cartoon alternative” to the real Hillary Clinton. The Washington Monthly’s Martin Longman claims that Democrats don’t need to create cartoon versions of conservatives since there’s already “something cartoonish about the right,” and in that regard Donald Trump “seems like a natural successor” to Sarah Palin and (wait for it) Ronald Reagan and (wait again) Dwight Eisenhower. Conservatism, concluded Longman, has “always been a charade. It’s also a cloak or a mask for selfishness and greed that they gussy up in Bill Buckley style and sell us as intellectualism."
To borrow a phrase from President Obama, let New York magazine’s Chait be clear: “Republicans nominated Donald Trump [because] Republican voters like Donald Trump. This theory has the virtues of simplicity and truth.” Chait’s peg for his Friday post, however, was an “alternate theory” he rejects: that “Trump prevailed at least in part because liberals blew their credibility by hyperbolically denouncing previous Republican presidential candidates, thereby conditioning Republicans to ignore the warnings when Trump came along.”
Shorter version of Brian Feldman’s Wednesday article: Sure, Mark Zuckerberg’s a genius, but he still hasn’t come up with a foolproof way to keep Facebook from promoting right-wing propaganda. “Facebook’s problem isn’t that it suppresses ‘conservative news’ or allows ‘fake news,’” wrote Feldman. “It’s that those two categories are increasingly indistinguishable.”