Peter Beinart airs a concern I raised in late May: that as Republicans coalesce around Donald Trump, the media will revert to “defin[ing] objectivity as equidistance between the talking points of the two major parties,” and, in so doing, legitimize Trump’s alarming behavior.
Beinart identifies Trump’s escalating war on the press as both a tool Trump uses to pressure the media to conform, and an example of the kind of behavior that might become normalized unless the press itself resists the “both sides” temptation.
This is a real problem, and it’s critical that people positioned to work the refs be vigilant about any slippage.
But early indications are actually very heartening. Indeed, the very fact that Trump has trained his sights on the media makes a reversion to false neutrality seem unlikely. In the weeks since Trump reprised the Vince Foster murder conspiracy theory (weeks in which he incited a campaign of racial intimidation against a federal judge, and accused President Obama of being an ISIS sympathizer among other things) Trump has received exactly the kind of coverage that he deserves, and my fear that the media will stop treating Trump as a deviant has waned.
Just this week, in straight news stories, the Washington Post and New York Times respectively described Trump’s post-Orlando speech as “laden with falsehoods and exaggeration,” and “an extraordinary break from the longstanding rhetorical norms of American presidential nominees.”
In the meantime, the Republican establishment writ large recoiled in horror from Trump’s Monday speech. Real Republican unity is a predicate to normalizing Trump. Instead, the GOP’s leading officials continue to be embarrassed by him. The commentariat shouldn’t lower its guard. But the media, and our institutions in general, are responding to Trump about as well as could be expected.