The media's election coverage is better than some pundits think


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No one's ever happy with the coverage of any presidential race. In the view of John Kass, "the American media have openly waged war" on behalf of Hillary Clinton. They mock the "unemployed working class"—to which Donald Trump appeals—as "unlettered racists." Yet it seems to Paul Krugman that Trump is "being graded on a curve. If he manages to read from a TelePrompter without going off script, he's being presidential." And "many of his multiple scandals"—if not every last one—"get remarkably little attention."

Pundits, like everyone else, can easily convince themselves that the republic trembles at the brink of an immense folly to which most Americans are blind. That's because most Americans are so much less perspicacious than the pundits themselves and so poorly informed by other pundits who are so much less upright and insightful. Even if they agree on nothing else, Kass and Krugman see this so clearly!

"I'm not worried about Trump," writes Kass. "He's a megalomaniac, and his kind of narcissism will help him blend in quite nicely in Washington if he's elected president. And I'm not worried about Clinton either. She's a pathological liar and well-suited to the Washington way, where liars are praised." But he's "mighty worried" about the media.

So I guess we're opposites. I'm not worried about the media, while I think that what Kass just had to say is temporizing nonsense. Presidents aren't elected to blend in and pathological liars tend to crash and burn. I think Kass is stalling, and eventually he'll have to say whether Clinton, whom he's made clear he "loathes," is so awful in his eyes he believes America should vote for Trump instead. Or will he come around to my position, which is that this election is a simple one because absolutely nothing justifies a vote for Trump? 

I searched for evidence supporting Kass and Krugman. What I found was that the idea of grading Trump on a curve has become such a common trope that there's a page on the Washington Post's website that tries to describe what the term actually means. It's called "Grading Trump on a curve, explained." Daniel Drezner, a Tufts professor of international politics, reflected on the break Trump is supposedly getting:

Grading Trump on a curve means it is assumed that as the GOP nominee, he will be up to the task of being president whether or not that is actually true. As a close Trump watcher for more than a year, I see no evidence that this is true. But when you read about Trump "maturing" as a candidate, or see news anchors discuss his myriad “pivots,” you see the curve at work. Because if there's one thing the mainstream media cannot say explicitly, it is that the Republican Party willingly chose an ignorant bigot as its nominee.

But Kass's point is that the media are saying this, their message being that the party nominated an ignorant bigot it's not too late for decent Republicans to disavow. So I thumbed through recent issues of the Chicago dailies—and Krugman's New York Times—for examples:

* From James Glassman in the Times: "Mr. Trump's appalling temperament renders him unfit to be president, and his grotesque policy formulations mock the principles of liberty and respect for the individual that have been the foundation of the Republican Party since Abraham Lincoln."

* From Jack Hunter in the American Spectator, reprinted in the Tribune: "For at least a year, a small army of online right-wing trolls—who refer to themselves as the 'alt-right'—has attacked anyone who dared challenge Trump. They use some of the most racist and anti-Semitic language imaginable . . . "

* Kass's fellow Tribune columnist Steve Chapman, made the point that as bad as a huge Trump defeat would be for the Republican Party, victory would be worse: "If President Trump wanted to intern Muslims, launch drones against Mexico, or put former KKK leader David Duke up in the Lincoln Bedroom, his fellow Republicans would wear the stain."

* Ron Christie in the New York Times: "The problem with Mr. Trump's efforts thus far is that he does not seem to understand that there is no such monolithic entity known as 'the African-American community.' Black America includes doctors, painters, welders, farmers and even former White House staffers turned adjunct professors like me."
* Mona Charen in the Sun-Times: "Republicans were relieved in 1992 to see [Ross] Perot unmasked as unstable. Perhaps, after 2016, they will fall out of love with addled businessmen forever."

* S.E. Cupp in the Sun-Times: "Remember, Trump is a guy who physically cheated on his first wife, and bragged in a book about other adultery. . . . [He's] been accused by at least three women of rape or attempted rape, one of whom was 13 years old at the time."

I don't see much grading on a curve here. I see Trump stuck in a pass/fail class and flunking. But to get back to Kass, let's see who these pundits are.

Christie and Glassman are Republicans, and each worked in the administration of George W. Bush. Cupp and Charen are syndicated columnists marketed as conservatives. Cupp wrote a book called Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media's Attack on Christianity. Charen wrote a book called Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got it Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First.

Chapman identifies himself as a libertarian. Last time I wrote about him, it was to rag him for something critical he had to say about Hillary Clinton back in 1994. Hunter was once chief blogger for former senator Ron Paul.

In short, the voices raised here to shame Trump voters don't remotely belong to a herd of Hillary's useful idiots. And what about the Dallas Morning News?

The Morning News just ran an editorial it called "Donald Trump is no Republican." "We have no interest in a Republican nominee for whom all principles are negotiable, nor in a Republican Party that is willing to trade away principle for pursuit of electoral victory," said the newspaper.

These acrid words could not have been chosen better to shame Trump supporters into reconsidering. But the Morning News hadn't endorsed a Democrat for president since FDR was in office. And it did more than denounce Trump—it endorsed Clinton. "Clinton has made mistakes and displayed bad judgment," said the Morning News, "but her errors are plainly in a different universe than her opponent's." 

Having thought over what Kass and Krugman had to say about coverage of this presidential election, I find I can't agree with either one of them. That's as it should be—an election is our great national exercise in passing gas without apology. We all do it. 

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