Margaret Sullivan is a media columnist for the Washington Post. Her columns show her to be a liberal partisan and full-blown Trump-hater.
Earlier this year, Sullivan urged reporters covering the presidential campaign to eschew “horse race” stories, avoid being distracted by gaffes, and focus on the substance of the candidates’ ideas. She lamented the fact that some outlets were talking about Elizabeth Warren’s likability (or lack thereof) and beer grab.
Sullivan’s plea echoed that of Sally Buzbee, a top editor at the AP. James Fallows of the Atlantic chimed in to the same effect.
The approach Sullivan and other mainstream media mainstays advocate would mark a significant change from media coverage of the Republican scramble for the presidential nomination four years ago. Back then, the Post and other mainstream outlets were happy to talk about Marco Rubio’s water grab, Rick Perry’s “oops” moment, Chris Christie’s high school baseball career, and anything non-substantive that Donald Trump did or ever had done.
Is it just a coincidence that calls for more substantive coverage of presidential aspirants comes when Democrats are having their scramble — one on which the media’s hopes of toppling President Trump may ride? I don’t think so.
The Post appears to be heeding Sullivan’s call. Consider this story about Elizabeth Warren’s visit to Iowa earlier this month. Post reporters Annie Linskey and Chelsea Janes (who until recently provided outstanding coverage of the Washington Nationals for the Post) gush about Warren for three dozen paragraphs, most of which are devoted to her “substance” — substance that, we can be confident, will be nearly identical to that of a dozen (or perhaps two or three dozen) other Democratic candidates.
I defy anyone to point to a comparable mainstream media article from 2015-16 about Donald Trump or any of his conservative rivals for the Republican nomination.
Near the end of their piece, Linskey and Janes mention Warren’s DNA test. But they note this “came up only briefly during a trip that rewarded Warren with robust crowds and expressions of support, a year before Iowans have to choose a favorite.”
I would like to have known more about how the DNA test “came up” and what Warren said about it. But providing this information would have violated Sullivan’s admonition.
Thus, we were treated instead to this conclusion to the article:
After deplaning at the Omaha airport, she was recognized by several people, some of whom wished her good luck as she stood in a lengthy line for the bathroom.
And after three days in Iowa, as Warren and her aides walked briskly through a sports bar to head for a flight from Des Moines to Boston, people began to cheer.
One person on her cellphone exclaimed: “I think I just saw Elizabeth Warren!”
I trust that Linskey and Janes weren’t among those cheering. They seem, though, to be cheerleading.