Donald Trump’s rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Thursday night was not a usual Donald Trump rally. Something in the air was different—Trump’s words, for starters. He rarely strayed from the prepared remarks on his teleprompter, delivering a speech that stayed on topic and told a complete narrative, unlike most of his directionless rants. He even admitted he sometimes says “the wrong thing,” adding, “I have done that, and I regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain.” Perhaps the campaign’s new CEO, Breitbart chairman Stephen Bannon, was already making his influence felt.
But it wasn’t just Trump himself. The crowd had changed. They were as angry as always; they called Hillary Clinton a “bitch” and chanted “lock her up.” But their deepest rage was reserved for another nemesis: the media.
For as long as Trump has run for president, he has criticized the media’s handling of his candidacy. But his rhetoric toward the press has heightened since the Republican National Convention as story after story—about his insults of the Khans, the dysfunction of his campaign, and the murky Russian dealings of his chairman, Paul Manafort—has chiseled away at his aura of invincibility.
The consensus in the crowd Thursday was that this biased coverage was to blame for Trump’s sinking poll numbers. When I walked into the Charlotte Convention Center, the first pair of men I came across were leaning over the railing of the press pit and joking about how much fun it’d be to “beat the shit” out of a few reporters typing away on their laptops and smartphones at one of the media tables. Later, I heard several people say that certain reporters, including the entire lineup at CNN, should be jailed for their indiscretions—and that Trump would do exactly that once he was elected.
Or rather, if he were elected. While some were still optimistic about his chances, there was a fresh sense of doom in the crowd. In the year I’ve been covering Trump, I’ve only heard a few supporters openly express a possibility that their candidate could lose, but on Thursday night it sounded like many of them had come to the same sobering conclusion. And if Trump loses, guess whose fault it will be?
In the hours leading up to the rally, I heard clusters of men and women lamenting the sad state of the presidential race, most of them agreeing there was still time to right the ship while a few had already given up hope. But all of them agreed that the predicament had been the result of unfair press coverage.
“They don’t report the truth,” I heard a man in a “Trump Train” T-shirt tell his wife. “How do you compete with that?”
Supporters’ frustrations bled into the program’s main event when Trump took his tried-and-true critique of the Fourth Estate, his complaint no longer just a list of grievances. Now, he urged his followers to imagine a world with a “better” press:
The establishment media doesn’t cover what really matters in this country, or what’s really going on in people’s lives. They will take words of mine out of context and spend a week obsessing over every single syllable, and then pretend to discover some hidden meaning in what I said.
Just imagine for a second if the media spent this energy holding the politicians accountable who got innocent Americans like Kate Steinle killed – she was gunned down by an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times.
Just imagine if the media spent this much time investigating the poverty and joblessness in our inner cities.
Just think about how much different things would be if the media in this country sent their cameras to our border, or to our closing factories, or to our failing schools. Or if the media focused on what dark secrets must be hidden in the 33,000 emails Hillary Clinton deleted.
Instead, every story is told from the perspective of the insiders. It’s the narrative of the people who rigged the system, never the voice of the people it’s been rigged against.
So many people suffering in silence. No cameras, no coverage, no outrage from a media class that seems to get outraged over just about everything else.
The media had become Hillary Clinton’s running mate, another establishment gatekeeper who held a lion’s share of the blame for ruining the country.
The crowd took its cue.
A man turned from Trump’s speech and toward the press pit, mouthing the words “that’s you, that’s you.” Several men cased the perimeter of the pit, snapping photos of each of the journalists and taking clandestine notes before marching away.
After Trump said goodnight, supporters moved to the barricade and engaged with reporters. Some just stood there, glaring. In the crowd, the talk was how unfairly Trump had been treated. Somebody said the media was full of “perverts and retards,” while a man in a “Trump That Bitch” T-shirt said “all reporters need lobotomies.” His friend suggested that President Trump might sign an executive order to that effect, but Mr. “Trump That Bitch” couldn’t see that happening—a President Trump, that is. “You know there’s no way they’ll let him get in the White House,” he said.
On the sidewalk outside, the familiar vendors were selling their offensive merchandise. People drifted toward the street to hail cabs or tracked down their Ubers. Down a ways, in the shadow of the building, a pair of men were smoking cigarettes and shooting the bull. One wore a veteran’s hat, the other a “Make America Great Again” cap.
“It don’t look good,” the veteran said. “Biased media’s gonna steal this thing.”
“Yeah,” his buddy said. “Reckon one of these days we’ll have to take matters into our own hands.”