NYT's Past Week of Trump Headlines is a Glimpse into Our Future
What kind of year will 2024 be? Here's an early clue.
Hello, all. Parker here.
As you’re no doubt aware, 2024 is going to be a pretty intense year for politics. It’s looking more likely than ever that Donald Trump and Joe Biden are headed to a rematch, and that means our venerable mainstream institutions have to come up with another 10+ months of content. And while I’d be the first to cheer on a move to cover more policy, I think we all know by now that we can expect the standard horse race approach from our legacy media institutions.
Not convinced? Let’s take a look at the kind of stuff The New York Times has published in just the past week or so.
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Let’s take a look at four recent headlines:
After Donald Trump said that undocumented immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country,” drawing backlash for being a tad more Hitler-y than usual, the Times ran a piece headlined, “Trump’s Long Fascination With Genes and Bloodlines Gets New Scrutiny.” This is, as I hope is obvious, underselling this “fascination” of Trump’s, which has some major eugenicist overtones.
The article itself wasn’t terrible, which is what makes that shameful headline that much worse. The piece contains details about Trump’s history with language like “poisoning the blood,” references other instances of Trump’s recent exterminationist rhetoric (see: his “vermin” comment), and explained why this was a controversial thing to say. This same article could have run with a headline like, “Trump’s ‘Poisoning the Blood” Comment Added to Long List of Fascist Echoes,” I think it would have flown under the radar.
Another Times headline framed the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling disqualifying Trump as at odds with democracy. This is silly. For one, Trump almost certainly will appear on Colorado’s ballot in the general election. But beyond that, why is this framed as a political battle? Why is analysis of this framed in any way other than simply looking at whether or not he’s guilty of what the court claims he is? Or at the very least, why isn’t that the primary angle?
The goal of these types of stories is to create a sort of “gotcha!” sentiment in which liberals are painted as insincere in their beliefs or otherwise hypocritical. In this case, it’s something like, “You say Donald Trump is a threat to democracy, and yet you are okay with him being taken off the ballot?”
And the truth may be that you just don’t have an opinion on him potentially being taken off the ballot. Or even if you do support it, there’s a perfectly obvious justification that destroys the premise of the “gotcha!” with just a few seconds of additional thinking. “Yes, I believe that there’s a difference between someone clinging to power after losing an election and an independent court making a ruling about whether or not the act of trying to illegitimately cling to power disqualifies that candidate from an election. These are not contradictory.”
The Times piece by Charlie Savage is rough. He opens by framing this as “one fundamental value against another: giving voters in a democracy the right to pick their leaders versus ensuring that no one is above the law.” Again, I imagine this will all eventually be meaningless as I do believe Trump will end up on the ballots, but this framing is so irritating and reminiscent of a lot of the recent coverage of “free speech” issues where threats perceived as being “from the left” get overhyped while institutional attacks on speech and protest being proposed and implemented by Republicans get glossed over or treated as simply the equivalent of the left — whether or not that’s accurate.
I understand the purpose of Michael Bender’s “Any Other Politician Would Have Bowed Out. Trump? Not a Chance.” Yes, yes, I get it. Legal scandals have always happened and used to be enough to end a politician’s career. Not Donald J. Trump and his 91 felony charges, though! Truly, I get it.
Still, this headline doesn’t tell the story of a hopelessly corrupt dictator-in-waiting who is unbound by the law or social norms. No, it celebrates a rebel who won’t let his political foes (which often includes himself) bring him down. It’s bad that we apparently live in a country where half of the voters are enthusiastically cheering on a criminal who illegally tried to retain power after losing an election, and I think we really need to consider what the mainstream press has done to create the conditions for it. This sort of “Whoa, look at Trump! The rebel!” type of stuff is unhelpful. The issue, once again, is not the article but the editorial decisions that went into the headline.
And finally, I want to point to an opinion piece. The headline: “The Secret of Trump’s Appeal Isn’t Authoritarianism.” Okay. Then what is it? Oh…
Yes, the New York Times, without a hint of irony, published an op-ed that argues Trump’s “moderation” is why voters like him. Yes, “moderation.”
What the author of this piece, conservative writer Matthew Schmitz, essentially argues, is that Trump was more “bark” than “bite.” There’s a fairly common argument I see with some regularity among Trump supporters. They’ll point to something happening (for instance, if gas prices go up) and then go, “It was either this or mean tweets, I guess!” The point is to make it seem as though people who oppose Trump do so on flimsy personality grounds (a case of “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” they’d argue), as opposed to a disagreement on policy. And I’m sure that does describe a fair number of people, but it’s pretty insulting as someone who does oppose Trump on policy grounds. Like, oh, excuse you very much, I actually dislike him because (among many other policy disagreements that would disqualify him from ever getting my vote) he’s promised to enlist a task force to determine if people like me should be allowed to exist in society, which is certainly not a “moderate” position.
The Times shouldn’t feel obligated to publish foolish pieces that mislead readers like this. Trump’s “moderation” was often the result of him not being constrained by Congress. Whenever he had the ability to act on an agenda item himself, or when he received necessary support from Republicans in Congress (almost always) during his first two years, he would act on it. Once Democrats retook the House during the back half of his term, they were able to block Trump’s more extreme legislative goals.
I believe news organizations will struggle to cover the 2024 election concerning Trump's legal woes, and this will be hugely beneficial for Trump. See, just about any article written that states facts about Trump’s cases will be interpreted by Trump supporters, right-wing media, and the Republican political apparatus as evidence of the media being “liberal.” This is always the strategy. If I had to guess, I imagine that legacy media outlets will either take the type of approach to reporting on Trump’s court cases where they subtlely make his criminality seem cool (see: above), or they will go out of their way to ensure an equal amount of anti-Biden content gets out there1. You know, in the name of balance. No, it won’t matter that there’s simply no Biden equivalent to Trump’s most egregious crimes. I think it’ll likely be some combination of the two. Or maybe I’ll be totally wrong. I’d be fine with that.
Anyway, that’s it for me today. Thanks for reading, all.
No, I am not in any way saying that if there are Biden stories news organizations should sit on them in the name of making clear that Trump is the more corrupt of the two. What I’m saying is that finding minor scandals to blow up into the equivalent of Trump’s scandals is exactly what happened in 2016 in the press.