Perhaps one of the most annoying tropes of this campaign season has been that of the so called “liberal media.” For decades now the right has very successfully pushed the idea that the mainstream media is prejudiced against conservatives and should therefore be discounted. It’s time to put this myth to rest. Yes, the media is prejudiced, but it doesn’t lean left, it leans toward laziness. It leans toward an easy narrative avoiding nuance and complexity.
This same laziness characterized the 2000 election. Early on the media decided George W, Bush was a lovable doofus while Al Gore was a liar and it refused to move from this narrative. This allowed Bush to lie his way through the 2000 campaign, and go on to be become our most dishonest president while Gore mixing up the FEMA director with one of his deputies was trumpeted as one of the greatest lies of the 20th century.
This is only one way, among many, in which this election eerily parallels the 2000 cycle. The media has a set story – Donald Trump is a nutty racist and Hillary Clinton obfuscates and lies. Thus, while by any objective measure Trump is by far the bigger liar, it is Clinton who is portrayed as dishonest. Trump is also the most opaque candidate in history, a fact brushed aside by the mainstream press. Could you imagine if Clinton refused to release her tax returns or possibly owed hundreds of millions of dollars to shadowy Russian oligarchs – it would be in the headlines every day and would be the focus of every interview with her. On the other hand, there are times when Trump is victim of his narrative such as when he said that Clinton’s security detail should be disarmed and was accused of threatening his opponent. Yes, his analogy was stupid but only the most tendentious reading of his remarks could see it as a “threat” to Clinton.
The main question is who is hurt by this narrative. One difference between 2016 and 2000 is that Bush actually cultivated his goofball image. It fit in well with a meme popular in America that people who are too bright, too well-educated don’t really understand anything and we would be better off electing a regular Joe. Trump, on the other hand, does not want to be seen by undecided voters as racist – although he is careful not to alienate racists either. Therefore, he is hurt by his media image in ways Bush was not.
Even with this, it seems that this trend effects Clinton more than Trump. Of course anything that shifts the narrative away from policy going to hurt Clinton since she actually has some. In addition, character issues are much nebulous, favoring the fact-free politics so dear to Republicans. Even more importantly, a recent CNN poll showed 95% of Americans thought honesty to be either extremely or very important in a presidential candidate whereas according to a Pew Poll only 63% thought treatment of minorities was important to their vote for president.
Yes indeed, we seem to be heading toward a repeat of 2000 heaven help us all leaving us with the big question – Can Trump be an even worse president than George W. Bush?