A Reporter ‘Fesses Up

Yesterday’s New York Times includes a piece by reporter Jim Rutenberg that is revealing, if perhaps unintentionally so. Rutenberg describes the question that “everyone” in journalism is wrestling with: how do you cover an “abnormal” presidential candidate? No, he doesn’t mean Hillary Clinton. He means Donald Trump.

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….

Stop right there. Note how Rutenberg equates racism and nationalism. Racism we all consider to be bad, but what is wrong with nationalism? It is, in my opinion, a good thing that has been sorely lacking in the Obama administration. Trump is, of course, a nationalist, so equating the two relieves Rutenberg of the necessity of demonstrating that Trump plays to “racist…tendencies,” something that I do not believe is true.

…that he cozies up to anti-American dictators…

Reset button, anyone? And who praised Assad as a “reformer”? That wasn’t Trump, it was Hillary Clinton.

…and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes…

That’s what they said about Ronald Reagan, too. This relates to Trump’s purported “instability,” which we will get to in a moment.

Because if you believe all of those things, you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer, and approach it in a way you’ve never approached anything in your career. If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, nonopinion journalist I’ve ever known, and by normal standards, untenable.

Oh, please. The New York Times’s editors and reporters have worked to defeat every Republican nominee since at least 1964. “Oppositional”? The Times is oppositional as to Republicans, not as to Democrats.

Rutenberg justifies blatant media bias by saying that Trump is an “abnormal and potentially dangerous candidate.” But why? Rutenberg acknowledges that the press was Trump’s best friend during the primary process, giving him $2 billion in free publicity. But now “[j]ournalists and commentators are analyzing his policy pronouncements and temperament with an eye toward what it would all look like in the Oval Office.” Some would say it’s a little late for that.

Rutenberg’s chief point is that Trump is unstable. Given that the man is 70 years old and has lived much of his life in the public eye, one would think that if he is unstable, the evidence should be clear. But this is the best the Times can do:

Yet there was Mr. Scarborough on Wednesday asking the former Central Intelligence Agency director Michael V. Hayden whether there were safeguards in place to ensure that if Mr. Trump “gets angry, he can’t launch a nuclear weapon,” given the perception that he might not be “the most stable guy.”

Then Mr. Scarborough shared an alarming conversation he said he had with a “foreign policy expert” who had given Mr. Trump a national security briefing. “Three times he asked about the use of nuclear weapons,” Mr. Scarborough said, describing one of the questions as “If we have them, why can’t we use them?”
Mr. Trump has denied Mr. Scarborough’s account. (He told The New York Times in March he would use nuclear weapons as “an absolutely last step.” But when the MSNBC host Chris Matthews challenged him for raising the possibility he would use them, Mr. Trump asked, “Then why are we making them?”)

Here, Trump is right and his critics are wrong. A presidential candidate absolutely should think about the circumstances under which he would use nuclear weapons. Herman Kahn wrote a whole book about it. Indeed, I would think that a candidate who has not thought deeply about the use of nuclear weapons is unfit for the presidency.

So, what else makes Trump abnormal and unstable?

No living journalist has ever seen a major party nominee put financial conditions on the United States defense of NATO allies…

So what? Millions of Americans have believed for decades that the U.S. bears too great a proportion of the West’s defense costs. What is wrong with expecting allies to pay their share? This view may be right and it may be wrong–I think it is right, in general–but it certainly isn’t unstable.

…openly fight with the family of a fallen American soldier…

Trump fought with the Khan family because the senior Khan viciously attacked him at the podium of the Democratic National Convention. That may have been stupid–I have written that it was–but it wasn’t unstable or abnormal. Hillary Clinton has battled with the families of fallen soldiers, too; namely, the ones killed in Benghazi. But she has relied on her surrogates in the press (at outlets like the Times) to denounce and smear them. Trump doesn’t have any surrogates in the press.

…or entice Russia to meddle in a United States presidential election by hacking his opponent (a joke, Mr. Trump later said, that the news media failed to get).

Here, Rutenberg is simply wrong. Trump did no such thing, as Scott has pointed out. This kind of misreporting exemplifies the bias that the Times and other liberal news outlets have always demonstrated toward Trump.

And while coded appeals to racism or nationalism aren’t new — two words: Southern strategy…

There is that equation of racism and nationalism again. Mr. Rutenberg is telling us more about himself, here, than he is telling us about Trump. And who was the last Republican presidential candidate who wasn’t accused of making “coded appeals to racism” by the New York Times? I can’t think of one. The appeals are so coded, apparently, that they are visible only to liberal reporters.

…overt calls to temporarily bar Muslims from entry to the United States or questioning a federal judge’s impartiality based on his Mexican heritage are new.

Again, two very different things are conflated. There is nothing racist about suspending immigration from predominantly Muslim countries. (Islam isn’t a race, remember?) In my view, that policy represents simple prudence. Millions of Americans agree. Are we all “abnormal” and “unstable?” As for Trump’s comments on the judge who is presiding over a case in which Trump was a party, they were stupid, in my opinion. But since news outlets like the Times have been smugly assuring us that Hispanics would hate Trump because of his views on immigration, I suppose Trump can be forgiven for believing them when it came to the judge.

What else is there? That’s it–a mighty thin indictment. It would be far more reasonable to say that Hillary Clinton is an abnormal candidate, and perhaps an unstable one, since she is the only presidential nominee who has been the subject of a criminal investigation by the FBI. To a neutral observer, that appears a great deal more abnormal than a few ill-considered remarks about political or judicial opponents.

Interestingly, Rutenberg admits that in the press, it is open season on Trump:

The media reaction to it all has been striking, what The Columbia Journalism Review called “a Murrow moment.” It’s not unusual to see news stories describe him as “erratic” without attribution to an opponent. The “fact checks” of his falsehoods continue to pile up in staggering numbers, far outpacing those of Mrs. Clinton. And, on Sunday, the CNN “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter called upon journalists and opinion makers to challenge Mr. Trump’s “dangerous” claims that the electoral system is rigged against him. Failure to do so would be unpatriotic, Mr. Stelter said.

Funny how patriotic the Democrats have gotten all of a sudden. Does Obama know about this?

Rutenberg wraps up with some pretentious words about the duties of a journalist. But it is far too late in the day for anyone to take them seriously. For decades, the duty of a New York Times reporter or editor has been to elect Democrats. That hasn’t changed.