Trump again threatens the media. Will the media care?

In an infamous article from 1922, The New York Times introduced the United States to a rising German politician by insisting that "Hitler's anti-Semitism was not so violent or genuine as it sounded." It would be nice to think that in the intervening century the nation’s largest media outlets have learned a lesson. And they have. They’ve learned to lean into it.

As Daily Kos’ Laura Clawson reported on Tuesday, a new study shows that the media is willing to cut Donald Trump infinite slack when it comes to using dehumanizing and threatening language toward everyone he sees as an opponent. Which is … everyone. Democrats. Republicans. Former members of his staff. Judges. The whole legal system. Steve Jobs’ widow.

But no one seems as eager to indulge Trump as America’s leading news outlets. It’s not just that they’re willing to look the other way when he attacks others; they are also eternally willing to bend over and take another one for team “objective journalism.” Except what they’re promoting isn’t anything like fairness, and what they’re protecting certainly isn’t some platonic ideal of truth.  

The nation’s major media outlets are begging Trump to hurt them again. Hurt them good. Oh, and to destroy the nation while he’s at it.

Overnight, Trump attacked MSNBC. The reason for this isn’t particularly clear and doesn’t particularly matter. However, in this attack, Trump makes an overt threat against the network, its leader, and the whole concept of the First Amendment.

In response to Trump’s attack, NBC News has issued this heartfelt reply: silence. But then, why wouldn’t they? They also didn’t comment back in September, when Trump threatened NBC’s parent company and insisted they should be investigated for “Country Threatening Treason.”

Silence in response to Trump’s threats is what major media outlets do.

Trump already declared the free press “the enemy of the people.” He already put journalists in cages so that his supporters could jeer them as Trump pointed them out for mockery. He didn’t do these things in the early days of his 2016 campaign. He did them while occupying the White House. Trump stood behind the bully pulpit and regularly informed the American public that the media was their enemy.

Those journalists were in a cage for a rally that Trump held in 2018, far from any presidential election. That the link to that Iowa rally is from an Australian news outlet is not a coincidence, as the reporter from that outlet seems to be the only one who was shocked by the way journalists were being pointed out for threats and derision, or by how an undercover filmmaker approached the cage to whisper that he was too afraid to try and conduct interviews, or how they weren’t even allowed to go to the bathroom without being supervised by a member of Trump’s staff. By that point, American journalists following Trump seemed to have simply accepted this as their lot.

Just over a month ago, Trump threatened journalists with prison rape unless they gave up sources who were informing on Trump’s crimes. And those same journalists went back to work the next day, cutting Trump every possible break.

The biggest of those breaks is simply this: Acting as if because Trump espouses fascism, racism, misogyny, bigotry, and violence every day, it’s not news. This is the most ass-backward idea ever cooked up in a newsroom. The fact that Trump does it over, and over, and over is the news. Responsible, objective journalism isn’t ignoring Trump’s threats because he makes them regularly. The regularity of his vile statements makes them both worse and more newsworthy.

If the mass media treated the Son of Sam killings the way they do Donald Trump, they would have stopped reporting after the first victim. After all, it’s just more of the same thing, right?

Trump is out there attacking journalists every day. He’s out there spitting on the First Amendment every day. He’s doubling down on his attacks on democracy every day. And all major media seems to think about is how many more clicks, views, and ad dollars they will make if they can use silence and selective reporting to ease Trump over the line to the White House.

Every time Trump calls out journalists or a media outlet, the reaction seems to be the same. Rather than fighting back, or defending their reporting, outlets slink further into the placating corner. Or hire another former Trump official. They seemed genuinely more concerned about offending Nazis than fighting them.

News outlets appear willing to keep up the pretense of being objective, even when studies show that they are leaning on the accelerator for Trump. They’ll keep up that pretense even in the face of the absolute reality that, should their boost carry Trump back to the Oval Office, he will come for them. He will come for the “enemies of the people.” He will come for those guilty of “country threatening treason.” He will make the days when he only put reporters in cages and encouraged the crowd to scream at them seem like a fond memory.

Trump is dedicated to destroying democracy. He’s absolutely insistent on ending the free press. He is openly using Nazi propaganda and threatening to repeat the most despicable events in history. Even so, as Laura wrote on Tuesday:

There is no question, by the hard numbers, that the media is giving Donald Trump a pass. His dehumanizing rhetoric describing his political opponents as “vermin” that he will “root out” is a nonstory as far as the broadcast networks, cable news networks, and largest newspapers in the country are concerned

Unless something changes, it will go on being a nonstory right up until the time Trump is telling them what stories are allowed.

Campaign Action