New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg was granted front-page real estate in the August 8 newspaper for an essay on "The Challenge Trump Poses to Objectivity." As with all things revolving around this candidate, this is a Crisis demanding Deep Thinking.
Rutenberg asks: "If you're a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation's worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?"
Answer: Like a dangerous racist demagogue.
Some questions on the matter.
1. Why wasn't the answer: Impartiality is mandatory in political coverage. If a reporter cannot manage this -- and some simply cannot -- then he should recuse himself from the assignment. This is first-semester journalism. Why can't that cardinal rule be followed?
2. How is this suddenly a crisis? Trump's been campaigning for over a year. Where were all those journalists presumably struggling with this issue (Rutenberg wouldn't otherwise be writing about it) during the primaries? Answer: Trump was running against other Republicans, and that was fun, but now he's running against Hillary, her camp is pushing this narrative, and an obedient media must project it, as they always do. Which leads to the next point.
3. How is it that in August 2016 a New York Times columnist finds himself struggling with such a crisis of objectivity and journalistic ethics when the press has broken the rules for decades? The same question could have been posed in 1964. Just substitute Barry Goldwater's name. It works perfectly. What about Ronald Reagan in 1968, 1976, and most emphatically 1980? Substitute the name. Pat Buchanan in 1992? Ted Cruz this year?
4. One needn't be a conservative to suffer this treatment. Just run against a Democrat and see what happens. Mitt Romney in 2012. (In fact, every Republican candidate in that race that year.) Bush 43. Bush 41. Even when a Republican enjoys media sympathies (McCain, Dole) come general election time, all niceties go out the window.
So when Rutenberg suggests that Trump is so objectionable that the conscientious, even patriotic journalist "would move closer than you've ever been to being oppositional. That's uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, non-opinion journalist I've ever known, and by normal standards, untenable," a conservative shakes his head in disbelief.
Or bursts out laughing.
Rutenberg concluded that a "Murrow moment" of advocacy against Trump is required. To do less would be "an abdication of political journalism's most solemn duty: to ferret out what the candidates will be like in the most powerful office in the world."
Bill Clinton was surrounded by scandals – legal, political, and personal – when he ran, but there was no need for a Murrow moment. Obama was surrounded by one pile of scandals when he ran in 2008, then an even bigger, and far more serious heap when he ran for re-election. No Murrow moment. And now we have Hillary, with the most serious political, legal and personal scandals of them all.
Solution? Go after Trump.