Eric Boehlert

Author ››› Eric Boehlert
  • How Megyn Kelly’s Softball Interview With Trump Signaled Fox News’ Complete Surrender

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Fox News’ combustible feud with Donald Trump began with a bang last August when Megyn Kelly pressed the candidate on his ugly history of misogynistic language. The hostilities ended with a whimper though, when Kelly last week obediently walked Trump through the now-infamous softball (or “airball”) interview as part of her first Fox Broadcast special.

    Media observers have been lining up to describe just how awful and boring and disappointing Kelly’s sit-down with Trump was, especially after she had made the media rounds promoting herself as a strong, independent journalist who wasn’t going to be intimidated by Trump.

    Instead, she practically bowed in Trump’s presence and produced the kind of “journalism” that Fox News is famous for -- The New Yorker called the interview “a useless exercise, except, perhaps, for those watching from one group: Republicans looking for a script for how to surrender to Donald Trump.”

    Professionally, Kelly’s wilting performance may have set back her dream of becoming the next Oprah or Barbara Walters; of breaking out of the Fox News conservative media word and establishing herself as a TV brand that can appeal to huge swaths of viewers. And maybe bank $20 million annually.

    Based on how the special flopped, she may not have that appeal. Ratings for Kelly’s first primetime television special were meh: she drew approximately five million viewers. The only real buzz the show created was the public mocking of Kelly’s inept interviewing style. (“A carefully modulated kindergarten-teacher demeanor.”)

    While Kelly huddles with her manager and agent and tries to figure out what went wrong after a long-running media love fest, the larger story that’s come into focus is how Fox News, led by Kelly’s genuflection to Trump, has signaled its institutional surrender to the presumptive GOP nominee. Fox News has been bullied and beaten into submission by a Republican front-runner who had the audacity to pick a fight with Roger Ailes and the mass media mouthpiece of the Republican Party.

    Sure, holdouts like Charles KrauthammerStephen Hayes and Greg Gutfeld remain staples on the Fox News lineup; holdouts who have dismissed Trump as a conservative joke for months. But their numbers, and certainly their sway, seem to be shrinking as the cable channel clumsily and belatedly maneuvers itself into its traditional campaign role: a cheerleader for, and ferocious defender of, the RNC.

    Like much of the Republican Party, as well as large portions of the conservative movement, Fox News is fumbling its way onto the “acceptance” mark as it comes to the final stages of its weird grieving process over the Trump nomination. Eight in 10 Republican voters now want party leaders to rally behind Trump, according to the latest New York Times/CBS poll.

    On paper, Trump and Fox seem like a perfect fit since both celebrate bigotry and embrace a kind of divisiveness-on-steroids approach to attack politics. But Fox isn’t used to being pushed around by politicians, let alone by the presumptive Republican Party nominee.

    And the conservative in-fighting led to major branding woes for Fox News:

    By mid February, [Fox’s] perception by Republican adults 18 and over had reached its lowest point in more than three years, and has declined by approximately 50% since January of this year. Coinciding with Trump’s rise to front-runner in the GOP presidential race, Fox News Channel has seen its perception by Republicans slide.

    Today we look at the capitulation landscape and think, well of course Fox News was going to surrender to Trump, right? Fox always backs the GOP front-runner. That logic makes sense today. But how quickly we forget the unprecedented brawl that played out for the last nine months, as Fox routinely found itself stumbling and bumbling; one moment supporting Trump and the next moment angrily lashing out at him.

    Here’s a stroll down the civil war memory lane. We may never see anything quite like it again in conservative politics: 

    2015:

    Rupert Murdoch reportedly orders Kelly to attack Trump at first GOP debate.

    Trump tweet-storms Kelly following the debate.

    Trump and Ailes reportedly smooth over their differences during private conversation.

    Trump launches a personal boycott Fox News.

    Trump drops his boycott.

    Trump spends New Year's Eve palling around with Fox News.

    2016:

    Trump threatens to be a no-show for a Fox News GOP debate.

    Fox releases a scathing statement about Trump skipping the debate.

    Trump calls Kelly “crazy” and “unwatchable.”

    During a post-debate interview, Trump suggests Bill O’Reilly go see a psychiatrist.

    Fox denounces Trump’s “sick obsession” with Kelly.

    Trump calls Kelly an "overrated anchor."

    Kelly meets in private with Trump to request an interview; asks him to stop insulting her.

    Fox airs Kelly’s puff piece interview with Trump. 

    And scene.

    We’re done here folks. Pack up your spectacles because the show is over. All’s that left on stage now are Ailes and Kelly, searching for their pride.

  • Trump Masqueraded As His Own Publicist -- But Clinton’s The "Inauthentic" One?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    For a candidate who’s often touted in the press as an authentic straight shooter, Donald Trump did a lot last week to puncture that reputation. From insisting that his promise of a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" was really “only a suggestion,” to flip-flopping on whether voters had a right to see his tax returns, Trump seemed to cast aside promises on a daily basis.

    But the strangest turn came with the revelation that years ago Trump often called up reporters claiming to be a company spokesman named “John Miller” or “John Barron,” and then said endlessly flattering things about his boss. (“He’s coming out of a marriage, and he’s starting to do tremendously well financially.”)

    “This was so farcical, that he pretended to be his own publicist,” said Sue Carswell, a former People reporter who once interviewed “John Miller” about Trump’s love life.

    Yet despite those image pile-ups last week, there’s little indication that the press is backing off its “authentic” mantle for Trump, let alone rising up to denounce him as a would-be charlatan.

    Days after the “John Miller” laugher, along with Trump walking away from previous campaign pledges, The Hill actually credited the Republican for trying to change lanes; for successfully “selling himself as a truth-telling firebrand” during the primary season, and now being “willing to refine that image.” The fact that Trump’s “refining his brand” simply represents another savvy move on his part.

    And that raises a key question: Is there anything Trump can do that will ever move the press off its preferred mark about how the 2016 campaign between himself and Hillary Clinton features Mr. Authentic vs. Mrs. Inauthentic?

    It’s rather remarkable that the political media have been chattering, yet again, about Clinton being inauthentic while news of Trump’s invented alter ego simultaneously swirled. And there seems to be little media realization that maybe he’s the phony one.

    There’s no question that in politics, “authentic” doubles as a media compliment. It’s reserved for a candidate who’s completely sure of him or herself and can effortlessly connect with voters who pick up on the confidence and genuineness. By contrast, “inauthentic” represents a grave campaign failure. It’s used to put down pols who are surrounded by yes men and women and who are too timid to reveal themselves, and to express their core values.

    For generations the Beltway press has kept an eagle-eye watch on inauthentic candidates who attempted image updates during the election season; for any candidates acting phony. (In 2000, Al Gore was pummeled in the press for supposedly being guilty of that transgression.)

    For decades the press, often echoing conservatives, has depicted Clinton as something of calculating fraud. Even today, as she amasses more votes than any other candidate in the primary season, she’s portrayed as out of touch and having trouble “connecting” with voters. Clinton doesn’t inspire, we’re told over and over, while more than 12 million Americans have lined up and voted for her this year. (And if she’s so “inauthentic,” so “scripted” and “poll-tested,” how did Clinton tally roughly 18 million votes during the 2008 primary, and win her 2000 senate campaign in a landslide?)

    Still, that talking point has become a media cornerstone for this campaign. Remember when NBC's Andrea Mitchell asked Hillary Clinton, "Does it hurt you when people say you are too lawyerly, you parse your words, you are not authentic, you're not connecting?"

    Back in February, Ron Fournier in The Atlantic stressed “Clinton continues to struggle to convince many Democratic voters of her authenticity.” After Clinton then went out and essentially won the Democratic primary, how did Fournier respond? He recently scolded Clinton’s campaign for not being as “honest and authentic” as the Trump campaign.

    And this from the Washington Post last week about Clinton’s supposed personality defects:

    • “She often comes across as inauthentic or lacking a basic core of beliefs.”
    • “When she is out on the campaign trail, the word that most often comes to mind for Clinton is 'clunky.' Or 'formulaic.' 'Guarded.'”
    • “If connecting is the coin of the realm in politics, Clinton doesn't have much money in her pocket.”
    • “The Clinton that voters meet tends to be someone who comes across as overly cautious and too political — afraid to say what she thinks about anything for fear of alienating this or that constituency.”

    In sharp contrast, much of the political press has spent months touting Trump’s supposed authenticity and praising his allegedly candid campaigning style. (Just like Chris Christie!)

    Last month, Trump’s senior aide Paul Manafort practically bragged about how the Republican front-runner was going to unveil a makeover, and that the Trump people saw during the primary season was just “projecting an image.” At the time, many D.C. commentators applauded the move, stressing how savvy it was for Trump to shed one image and try on another for the general election campaign.

    At this point it’s harder to tell which media urge is stronger, the desire to keep promoting Trump as a straight shooter, or the yearning to paint Clinton as a phony.

  • Trump Dares The Press With His Tax Returns

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Talk about burying the lede.

    In an interview with the Associated Press, Donald Trump made big news by suggesting he wasn’t going to release his tax returns this year. But instead of trumpeting the news, the AP focused its headline on Trump's VP search. The outlet initially inserted just a handful of sentences about Trump’s declaration and didn’t question the inaccuracies embedded in his claims. (AP later updated its article with some more detail, including his contention that he merely told AP that he was waiting for the audit, not necessarily until after the election.)

    Fact: No nominee for president in 40 years has refused to release his or her tax returns.

    Fact: Trump’s claim that he can’t release his taxes because he’s being audited has already been debunked, many times over.

    Fact: The same press corps that had largely given Trump a pass over his taxes this winter and spring was simultaneously creating a new transparency standard and hounding the Democratic front-runner about releasing transcripts to paid speeches she’s given.

    Apparently tired of offering up weak rationales for refusing to disclose his tax returns -- like claiming he can’t release them because he’s always getting audited for being a “strong Christian” -- Trump seemingly floated a trial balloon that he might opt out of disclosing them until after the election.

    In doing so, he’s basically daring the press to make a big deal out of his open defiance of transparency traditions.

    Will Trump’s long-term bet work? It might, knowing the campaign press time and again has shown a willingness -- and even an eagerness -- to carve out sympathetic new rules for him.

    Be herded into press pens at Trump campaign events? Sure.

    Allow Trump to constantly call into television news programs? Why not.

    Trump has derided and insulted the media at every possible turn and he’s been rewarded for it -- NBC Nightly News recently broadcast an entire newscast from the Trump Tower.

    It’s true that immediately after his tax proclamation to AP this week, there has been widespread coverage of the issue, and CNN in particular has played the story up big. The question is, will the press keep pushing this issue weeks and months from now? Will virtually every Trump interview going forward feature a section where he’s pressed about his tax returns and not allowed to obfuscate?

    I’m not optimistic. Here’s how NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt recently handled the topic with Trump [emphasis added]:

    HOLT: Tell me how the audit is going. You have not released your tax returns. You`ve talked about an IRS audit. Still going on?

    TRUMP: It`s still going on. I mean, they`re going for a long time.

    HOLT: How come it--

    TRUMP: I`ve been audited and I`ll tell you, honestly, it`s very unfair. I`ve been audited every year for thirteen or fourteen years. Every year, I get audited. And I will absolutely release my returns when I-- when the audit ends.

    HOLT: But there`s nothing in these returns you think that might make your supporters raise an eyebrow?

    TRUMP: No, nothing. It`s a very standard audits. And I have them all the time. And I have other friends that are very wealthy, they don`t even know what I`m talking about when I say I`m audited. They said they`ve never been audited. I get audited every single year. And I think it`s very unfair.

    HOLT: Donald Trump, that`s all the time we have. Thank you so much for your time.

    TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, Lester.

    HOLT: Good talking to you and congratulations.

    TRUMP: Thank you.

    That’s not exactly hard-hitting stuff.

    And note how Holt let Trump hide behind the hollow claim that an audit prevented him from making disclosures. David Cay Johnston, a former New York Times investigative reporter who has covered Trump for more than two decades, detailed why the audit excuse doesn’t fly:

    An audit is no reason for Trump to withhold his tax returns. Releasing them does not affect the IRS, and the agency has already said nothing prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information. Moreover, Trump has no excuse for holding back tax returns from years no longer under audit.

    Johnston thinks it’s possible that Trump, taking advantage of real estate depreciation laws, has paid no federal income taxes in some years. (Johnston claims Trump did that as a young man while claiming to be worth $3 billion.) Obviously, it would be shocking news to Trump supporters if a man who boasts of being worth $10 billion actually pays less in income taxes each year than people who aren't worth nearly as much.

    At The Atlantic, David Graham zeroed in on Trump’s “long history of questionable finances” to emphasize why the tax returns matter.

    What would also be noteworthy is if Trump has been lying about his wealth and his business success. (Lots of observers have cast doubt on Trump’s $10 billion boast.) The Republican’s entire campaign is built around the simple premise that because he was able to build a $10 billion empire, he’d be able to "Make America Great Again." But if you subtract the $10 billion empire part of the equation, where does that leave Trump’s campaign pitch?

    Meaning, Trump’s tax returns aren’t just about transparency and good government. Trump’s tax returns go to the heart of his campaign, which means it ought to be an even bigger news story. But for months this year it wasn’t treated that way by the press.

    Meanwhile, the press pile-on has often been relentless regarding Hillary Clinton and the demands she release transcripts to paid speeches she gave in recent years. In a scolding editorial, the New York Times compared the former secretary of state to a "mischievous child" for declining to release speech transcripts.

    But as Media Matters has noted, a lot of politicians made money from paid speeches -- including speeches to financial institutions -- before becoming presidential candidates. And none of them were hounded so extensively by reporters.

    That list includes:

    Mike Huckabee

    Donald Trump

    Ben Carson

    Jeb Bush

    Carly Fiorina

    Mitt Romney

    Herman Cain

    Newt Gingrich

    Rudy Giuliani

    Some of those Republicans even gave paid speeches while running for office.

    Bottom line: Clinton has released years of tax returns. Trump hasn’t released any. If the press wants to do campaign articles about transparency, Trump is giving them a pretty good angle.

  • With Benghazi And Email Pursuits Fading Fast, Media’s Clinton Scandal Machinery Sputters And Groans

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    NBC News got caught on the wrong side of the faux scandal news cycle when it recently sent Cynthia McFadden all the way to Romania for a jailhouse interview with convicted hacker Marcel Lehel Lazar, also known as “Guccifer.”

    Claiming to have hacked his way into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, Lazar told NBC that Clinton’s account was “completely unsecured.” "It was like an open orchid on the Internet.” McFadden stressed that Lazar was “at the center of the Hillary Clinton email controversy, which has dogged her campaign from day one.”

    NBC hyped the interview for days in advance of the broadcast even though McFadden conceded on-air that, “there are plenty of reasons to doubt” the hacker’s claim. Namely, he offered up no proof that he had hacked Clinton’s email server and had free access to its contents.

    That’s a pretty mushy story to travel 4,700 miles for. But why was the timing especially bad for NBC News? Last week, CNN and The Washington Post reported that according to officials close to the ongoing email investigation -- the one that's “dogged” Clinton -- FBI investigators have so far found no evidence of wrongdoing.

    CNN: “So far investigators haven't found evidence to prove that Clinton willfully violated the law the U.S. officials say.”

    Washington Post: “Prosecutors and FBI agents investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email server have so far found scant evidence that the leading Democratic presidential candidate intended to break classification rules.”

    Even worse for NBC, the Post reported law enforcement officials specifically gave zero credence to the Romanian hacker’s claims about breaching Clinton’s server. His hacking claim was “dismissed” as being irrelevant because “investigators have found no evidence to support the assertion.”

    So yes, if you’re NBC and officials were confirming that they still had found no wrongdoing regarding Clinton’s emails, and that the hacker Guccifer’s claims weren’t being taken seriously, your scoop had been badly deflated. 

    But why still air it? Because all wild allegations lodged against Bill and Hillary Clinton are considered news. That’s how the Beltway game has been played for the past 20-plus years -- Republicans team up with eager reporters to spin tall tales of Clinton wrongdoing, only to be proven mostly wrong in the end. (Note the timing: NBC’s email stumble came just days after NBC Nightly News broadcast live from the lobby of Trump Tower.)

    Today, there are clear indications the email investigation is being signaled in for a landing and that Republicans and their scandal cheerleaders at Fox News are going to be disappointed with the results.

    The political press, which has hyped the story relentlessly for more than a year, may feel let down as well. Recall that from March to September last year, ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News together spent just as much time covering the email controversy as they spent covering Clinton's entire presidential campaign.

    At the Washington Post, political blogger Chris Cillizza wrote more than 50 posts mentioning Hillary Clinton's emails in a six-month span last year, many of them hyping the "massive political problem" she faced. And during the month of September 2015 alone, the Post published at least 70 articles, columns, and blog posts that mentioned Clinton and discussed her use of email at least three times.  

    If the FBI brings the email investigation to a conclusion and Clinton is not charged with a crime, do you think the networks and the Washington Post will respond with similar coverage?

    At the same time, the never-ending Benghazi “scandal” investigation is now hobbling across the summertime finish line with little evidence that the committee has turned up the kind of information that will satisfy the scandalmongers in conservative media.  

    Fox News’ so-called Benghazi scoops have recently been reduced to reports about how the House Select Committee is bickering with the Pentagon over document retrievals. (That might be because last month the Pentagon blasted the House investigation for wasting everybody’s time.)

    Running on parallel tracks, Benghazi and the Clinton email “scandals” were, in some Republican dreamscapes, going to be the one-two combination that not only derailed Clinton’s campaign, but sent her to prison. (Orange jumpsuits!) Unsure they could defeat her at the ballot box, and even more unsure with Donald Trump looming as the party’s unlikely and unpopular nominee, Republicans were hoping for an investigative intervention to stop Clinton. Because criminalizing the Clintons has become a long-running conservative obsession.

    But by all indications in recent days, and frankly by all indications for many, many months to anyone who’s paid any attention to the facts of both ‘scandals,’ the Benghazi/email combination may end up being more of a whiff than any kind of knockout punch.

    And as a helpful reminder, just because these soggy tales have been wilting for so long and it’s easy to forget: The GOP’s Benghazi investigation and the GOP’s Clinton email investigation became joined at the hip, with both productions representing ceaseless GOP attempts to undermine Democratic leaders through the guise of investigation. In fact, the Republican-led Benghazi Select Committee effortlessly morphed into the Clinton email committee.

    And that committee was very good to the Beltway press corps. Eager to chase storylines about Clinton’s supposed crooked ways, reporters eagerly snatched up leaks and played up baseless speculation about looming indictments. But few asked questions about what price Republicans should pay for fact-free partisan pursuits that cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

    So move over Whitewater, we have more Clinton “scandals” that stand poised to join the pantheon of wasted efforts by Republicans and the Beltway press corps. (See: Cattle futures, Filegate, Travelgate, Wen Ho Lee, and the Clinton Foundation witch hunt.) They’re “scandals” that erroneously and unfairly paint a famous Democrat as being unethical and above the law.

    And journalists today wonder why Clinton’s unfavorable ratings seem high?

    A post-script: The conservative press loves to compare all Clinton investigations to Watergate. In hopes of conjuring up a game-changing scandal that would sweep away Hillary in disgrace, the way Watergate ruined Republican Richard Nixon, Fox News and others have spent years telling each other tall tales in hopes of conjuring the ghosts of Watergate past. (Are they trying to pre-impeach Hillary?)

    So as the House Select Committee on Benghazi winds down, let’s compare its accomplishments with the Senate Watergate Committee. Via the Washington Post, here’s a reminder of what the Senate investigation, as well as the House Judiciary Committee, helped uncover during an 18-month stretch, beginning in the spring of 1973:

    May 18 - The Senate Watergate Committee begins its nationally televised hearings. Attorney General-designate Elliot Richardson taps former solicitor general Archibald Cox as the Justice Department's special prosecutor for Watergate. Post Story | Post Analysis

    June 3 - John Dean has told Watergate investigators that he discussed the Watergate cover-up with President Nixon at least 35 times, The Post reports. Post Story

    June 13 - Watergate prosecutors find a memo addressed to John Ehrlichman describing in detail the plans to burglarize the office of Pentagon Papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist, The Post reports. Post Story

    July 13 - Alexander Butterfield, former presidential appointments secretary, reveals in congressional testimony that since 1971 Nixon had recorded all conversations and telephone calls in his offices. Post Story

    July 18 - Nixon reportedly orders the White House taping system disconnected.

    July 23 - Nixon refuses to turn over the presidential tape recordings to the Senate Watergate Committee or the special prosecutor. Post Story

    October 20 - Saturday Night Massacre: Nixon fires Archibald Cox and abolishes the office of the special prosecutor. Attorney General Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus resign. Pressure for impeachment mounts in Congress. Post Story

    November 17 - Nixon declares, "I'm not a crook," maintaining his innocence in the Watergate case. Post Story

    December 7 - The White House can't explain an 18 ½-minute gap in one of the subpoenaed tapes. Chief of Staff Alexander Haig says one theory is that "some sinister force" erased the segment. Post Story

    1974

    April 30 - The White House releases more than 1,200 pages of edited transcripts of the Nixon tapes to the House Judiciary Committee, but the committee insists that the tapes themselves must be turned over. Post Story

    July 24 - The Supreme Court rules unanimously that Nixon must turn over the tape recordings of 64 White House conversations, rejecting the president's claims of executive privilege. Post Story

    July 27 - House Judiciary Committee passes the first of three articles of impeachment, charging obstruction of justice.

    August 8 - Richard Nixon becomes the first U.S. president to resign. Vice President Gerald R. Ford assumes the country's highest office. He will later pardon Nixon of all charges related to the Watergate case. Post Story

    By contrast, here’s what has happened of significance during the House Select Committee’s 24-month Benghazi investigation:

    October 22, 2015: Hillary Clinton testified before the committee for 11 hours, in a Capitol Hill production that was widely derided as a Republican failure.

  • Reminder: How The Media Missed The Trump Surge

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The media’s mea culpa season is in full bloom this spring as analysts and commentators step forward to concede that with Donald Trump effectively seizing the Republican nomination, they were often very wrong in predicting his political demise.

    Convinced that he was an outlier fluke who couldn’t sustain his popularity -- let alone nail down a major party nomination -- the Beltway media consistently missed the Trump surge for months, and often did so in bold fashion:

    *"Why no one should take Donald Trump seriously” (Washington Post

    *“Donald Trump’s surge in the polls has followed the classic pattern of a media-driven surge. Now it will most likely follow the classic pattern of a party-backed decline.” (New York Times)  

    *“No, he won't win the Republican nomination for president.” (ABC News)

    Credit now goes to journalists who have stepped forward to admit their mistakes and offer news consumers some guidance as to why commentators likely misread the Trump campaign.

    Some reasons offered up include, Republican elites failed to effectively coalesce around an anti-Trump candidate. The news media essentially sponsored Trump’s campaign with an unprecedented amount of free exposure. And Republican voters didn’t penalize Trump for his obvious policy flip-flops.

    Note that there’s nothing inherently wrong with being incorrect about campaigns, assuming predictions are made in good faith. And this Trump misfire isn’t going to, nor should it, stop pundits and prognosticators from trying to peer into the future.

    But there is a problem if the media’s elite class doesn’t understand how one of America’s two major parties functions today. It’s problematic if the GOP’s gone through an ugly transformation, which produces a Trump nominee, and the political press is too timid or too detached to accurately document that radical makeover.

    And in the case of Trump that denial seems to have been widespread. For instance, much of the data pointed to a Trump win for a very long time. “Trump was a stronger candidate than anyone wanted to admit,” the Huffington Post recently noted. “He skyrocketed to the top of an incredibly crowded pack soon after announcing he was running.”

    Resisting those hard facts, many journalists clung to the idea that Trump was simply too out-there to become the nominee; too extreme, reckless, and garish for a major party nominee.

    And that’s still the problem today. Lots of media analysts continue to ignore a central reason for why they missed the Trump surge, and they’re still not acknowledging what’s driving his success: The truly radical nature of today’s Republican Party and its right-wing voter base.

    Y’know, the conservative movement that cheered Glenn Beck when he called the president of the United States a "racist"; that supported right-wing claims that president Obama was a tyrant who needs to be impeached. (And that he was foreign-born.) The movement that revolves around Rush Limbaugh, who claimed that if Obama weren't black he'd be working as a tour guide in Hawaii, not sitting in the Oval Office, and who insisted Obama ran for office because he resents white America and wants to score some payback.

    And it’s a Republican Party that has essentially shut down the U.S. Congress, rather than legislate with Obama. It’s a party today that refuses to hold hearings for the president’s highly qualified Supreme Court nominee.

    That’s what the Republican Party has become in recent years, but the press has mostly held its tongue about the nasty makeover. And in the process, the press missed the Trump surge, which rode that radical GOP wave. 

    The collective, years-long turning of a blind eye indicates to me just how important it is for the Beltway press to maintain a symmetrical balance between Democrats and Republicans. It shows how the press remains married to the idea that the two parties are simply mirror images of each other, occupying different ends of the political spectrum. That for however far to the edge Republicans move, Democrats are sure to reciprocate. It’s the Both Sides Are To Blame syndrome, basically.

    And there’s great comfort in that for the press. Because if you call out Republicans as radical, or note that the ugly nature at the base of the GOP could easily propel Trump to a nomination victory, that means the press has to break from the safety of the Both Sides narrative. That then opens the press up to “liberal media bias” denunciations from the right.

    So which is worse, being taunted with claims of liberal bias, or misreading a presidential campaign season for ten months? 

  • Pundits’ New Lament: Clinton Might Win, But She Won’t Win The Right Way

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    That distant rumble you’re hearing from the Beltway is the sounds of pundits eagerly excavating as they dig up the campaign goal posts established for Hillary Clinton’s presidential run and reset them during the middle of the race.

    After months of suggesting her White House push was possibly doomed, that she couldn’t connect with voters, pundits are now conceding she will be her party’s nominee and that polling data and demographics currently give her a November advantage. But instead of admitting they misread her run (how do you accumulate 13 million primary votes and not connect with people?), some have decided to change the rules -- to move the goal posts midway through the game -- and suggest that even if she wins the presidency, Clinton will have won it the wrong way, and that in some bizarre way her victory won’t be legitimate.

    Penning a campaign memo to Clinton with the subject line, “Winning Right,” Ron Fournier in The Atlantic insisted that winning isn’t enough for her (emphasis added):

    Congratulations! You are now the presumptive Democratic nominee. Considering the demographic obstacles piled against Donald J. Trump, you’re this close to the presidency. The nation’s first woman president. Heir to President Obama’s legacy.

    It’s not enough. Is your goal to win the presidency or to win and transform the presidency? Are you a caretaker or a change agent? Do you seize power for the love of power or for higher purposes: to modernize the institutions of politics and governance; to restore the public’s faith in Washington; to break the cycle of polarization and solve big problems; to galvanize the youth vote (like Obama) and translate millennials’ passion and power into governmental reforms (unlike Obama)?

    According to Fournier, Clinton’s victory and her presidency will only matter if she completely transforms American politics. And if she accomplishes that without any help from Republicans, of course.

    For context, note that Fournier’s column scolded Clinton’s campaign for not being “honest and authentic” the way Donald Trump’s campaign has been honest and authentic. So that tells you a bit about the writer’s worldview.

    Some of Fournier’s suggestions/demands for Clinton to win and govern the right way? She should “digitize” the “bully pulpit” to get Republican statehouses to stop gerrymandering voting districts, and as president she should change the rules for how the Democratic and Republican parties nominate their candidates.

    So no, I doubt the Clinton camp is taking Fournier’s offerings seriously. But his heavy-handed demands are worth noting since they offer insight into how parts of the pundit class are already preemptively undermining Clinton’s possible win.

    One popular refrain is that the rest of Clinton’s run is already tainted because her unfavorable/favorable rating is not good. Trump’s net unfavorable rating is worse, but many in the press are lumping the two candidates together and presenting them as a deeply unpopular pair.

    “I think is very frustrating is that the two people most disliked by a majority of the country are about to end up running against each other,” lamented Matthew Dowd on ABC This Week.

    Added Fournier on Meet The Press: “We have two presumptive nominees and most often America says oh, my God. Maybe I don't vote in November.”

    The theme is constant: Clinton’s viewed poorly by voters, therefore she doesn’t inspire. But that’s not true. A recent Gallup poll found that Clinton supporters were among the most enthusiastic this campaign season, and were even more enthusiastic about her run than supporters of Bernie Sanders were about his.

    Meanwhile, over at Politico, Todd Purdum’s recent piece, “How Hillary Could Win the Election—and Lose the Country,” harped on many of the same points Fournier made in The Atlantic. Yes, Clinton can win, but she’s winning the wrong  way (emphasis added):

    It is entirely possible to be the winner and still not get much of a mandate—to enter office as a kind of default president who gets in because no other candidate is electable but who doesn’t have the faith and loyalty of a large portion of the nation.”

    Specifically, Purdum deducts points for Clinton lacking a clear vision (a “new animating idea”). Yes, as Purdum quotes from a recent Clinton speech, she’s fighting for “civil rights, voting rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and rights for people with disabilities.” But to pundit Purdum, it seems boring.

    It’s boring and out of touch: “[Her] ideas are out of sync with the mood of the electorate in this three-sheets-to-the-wind age.”

    Of course, the idea that she’s “out of sync” with voters is undermined by the fact Clinton has received more votes than any other candidate this year.

    Have we ever seen a White House campaign where members of the press suggest the candidate winning the most votes isn’t really the candidate people want to vote for? Yet over and over Purdum insists Clinton’s out of touch with Democratic voters … while Clinton seems poised to accept her party’s nomination. (I’m anxiously awaiting the Purdum column about how Trump’s badly out of step with Republican voters today.)

    Overall, this whole not-winning-the-right-way thing is quite odd, mainly because for decades campaign coverage in America has revolved around one thing: Winning. It’s been the only thing that mattered. And winners were usually toasted as being super savvy regardless of their margin of victory. That's why it's called horse race journalism because the press has been obsessed with documenting who crosses the finish line first; with who's up and who's down. 

    Today, Clinton’s clearly up so some scribes want to rewrite the rules and announce that it’s not really about winning, it’s about how you win? Suddenly pundits are subtracting points for style and grace if she doesn’t run her campaign and win exactly how they say she must conduct herself?

    Media message to Hillary: Jump through these series of progressively smaller campaign hoops while we  grade your leaps and bounds as being insufficient.  

  • Obama’s Boasting Reaganesque Approval Ratings, So Where’s The Media Attention?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    For a leader regularly written off by the press as a lame duck 18 months ago, President Obama has tallied some major wins during his second term, and voters have taken notice. He’s normalized relations with Cuba, implemented a historic Iranian nuclear deal, signed a global climate pact with nearly 200 nations, overseen the continued success of Obamacare, all while the economy has recorded 73 straight months of job growth.

    No wonder that polls point toward a Democrat succeeding him in the White House.

    So why isn’t there more media credit directed his way? Is the press making the mistake of reading off the Republican campaign script this year, which insists America is teetering on collapse? (Obama joked at the White House Correspondents Dinner: “The end of the Republic has never looked better.”)  

    Whatever the reasons, let’s note there hasn’t been a media rush to document Obama’s strong standing in recent weeks. CNN last month timidly suggested, “there's some evidence that the public is viewing Obama … more fondly.” The first clue? Obama’s approval rating hit a three-year high of 53 percent, according to Gallup. (He boasts a staggering 66 percent approval rating today among voters 18-29.)

    Obama’s strong showing has remained steady since March: Gallup on Monday pegged his approval rating at 52 percent.

    Note that the president’s approval rating dropped down to 40 percent just 18 months ago during the midterm election cycle in 2014, which means he’s ridden a 13-point surge over the last year-and-a-half. Doesn’t that qualify as news?

    The president averaged a nearly 50 percent approval rating from January 20 through April 19, his 29th quarter in office, according to Gallup. That 29th quarter represents “one of the higher quarterly averages in his presidency to date.” That’s especially remarkable considering second terms are not traditionally kind to presidential approval ratings.

    Recall that our previous two-term president left office with a 22 percent approval rating, while his vice president signed off with a thumbs-up from 13 percent of voters. 

    What’s also impressive is that in today’s hyper-partisan environment, Obama has been able to boost his standing while getting almost no support from Republican voters.

    “Obama is the first president since polls existed to have never gone above 25 percent approval from the other side,” noted Paul Waldman at the American Prospect. Obama’s approval among Republicans currently stands at just 14 percent, according to Gallup. Given today’s rugged political terrain, “If a president can stay at 50 percent, he should be counted a remarkable success,” Waldman argued.

    But don’t look for lots of media tributes. The truth is, during his two terms the press has repeatedly worked to depict Obama’s standing as being on the decline, and often downplaying his success. (Also, good news is no news.) As Media Matters noted in 2010, “Beltway scribes today have made it plain that when it comes to Obama and polling, good news is no news.”

    And when Obama’s standing did fall, the press eagerly piled on, as I laid out after Democratic losses in 2014:

    Right after the election, a November Economist editorial announced, "Mr. Obama cannot escape the humiliating verdict on his presidency." Glimmers of hope after the midterms were no reason to think Obama had "somehow crawled out of the dark place that voters put him," the Washington Post assured readers. (Post columnist Dana Milbank has recently tagged Obama as a hapless "bystander" who's "turning into George W. Bush.") And a McClatchy Newspapers headline declared, "President Obama Is Now Truly A Lame Duck."

    So it’s not surprising the same press corps is in no rush today to detail Obama’s recent surge in popularity, and in fact seems to tiptoe around it. 

    In January, The New York Times looked ahead to Obama’s final year in office and stressed, “polls show doubts about his handling of critical issues.” Contrasting his second term with Bill Clinton’s and Ronald Reagan’s, the Times insisted Obama began the year “without the advantages of popularity that Reagan and Mr. Clinton had.”

    In other words, both Reagan and Clinton were very popular during their final year in office, but Obama was not. Yet recently, Obama’s Gallup approval rating slightly exceeds Reagan’s from the same point in the Republican’s eighth year in office.

    Obama’s Gallup rating April 25-May 1, 2016: 51 percent.

    Reagan’s Gallup rating May 2-May 8, 1988: 50 percent.

    So where are the media acknowledgements? (In the press, Reagan is often used as shorthand for a universally popular president.) In recent months, the Times has made only a few passing references to Obama’s approval ratings, according to Nexis.

    In early March, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that Obama’s approval rating had risen to 51 percent, up from 45 percent in December. Big news, right? Nope. The Post reported that 51 percent fact in the ninth paragraph and devoted just one sentence to his surge.

    Here’s another example: Last June when a CNN poll found that Obama’s approval rating dipped to 45 percent, CNN played the data as big news (“President Barack Obama's job approval numbers are sinking”), complete with the taunting headline “Bush Now More Popular Than Obama.” 

    But more recently, when CNN polling pegged Obama’s approval at 51 percent, CNN downplayed the news. CNN’s polling write-up about the survey included just one sentence noting the president’s surge.

    And in a recent 8,000-word opus, Politico outlined what it claims to have been Obama’s “failure” to communicate his agenda, and what “went wrong” inside the White House. It wasn’t until 7,000 words into the feature that Politico acknowledged Obama’s approval rating recently hit a three-year high. Politico also never mentioned that Obama’s approval today matches that of Reagan’s, who was known as The Great Communicator.

    To date, Obama’s second term has been a broad success, and lots of voters agree. When’s the press going to take note? 

  • With The Megyn Kelly Vs. Donald Trump TV Summit, Everyone Wins (Except The GOP)

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The unfolding Republican primary season, which often resembles a soap opera with its endless drama and plot twists, saw a new media chapter when Fox News announced Megyn Kelly had landed her first interview with Donald Trump since the start of their public feud last year. 

    Scheduled to be included in Kelly’s first prime-time Fox TV special on May 17, the sit-down came after Kelly, the target of relentless Trump insults, made a hush-hush visit to candidate’s New York City office to ask for an interview. (Kelly also reportedly asked Trump stop personally insulting her.)

    The Fox News green room commotions just never end. Recall that in March, after going on a Twitter tirade in which he denounced Kelly as “crazy,” Trump announced he was skipping another Fox News debate, which led to the event being canceled. Fox News headquarters answered back, claiming the GOP frontrunner had a “sick obsession” with Kelly. But that was awkward because Fox showered Trump with nearly $30 million in free TV time from May through December of 2015. So who’s obsessed with whom?

    The Fox News vs. Trump saga represents a completely dysfunctional relationship: Much of Fox loves Trump’s right-wing politics; Trump loves to bully Fox. Now the latest love/hate chapter is that Trump has agreed to sit for Kelly’s interview, which is weirdly being hyped as a major campaign showdown. (Remember when campaigns were focused on voters, not cable news hosts?)

    Kelly’s Trump interview represents good news for her, good news for Fox, and good news for Trump.

    If he behaves himself, he might come across as magnanimous as he jousts with his foe. If Kelly uses the opportunity to aggressively challenge Trump, she'll likely garner more plaudits from mainstream outlets. (The interview also comes as Kelly is negotiating a new contract and potentially leaving Fox News for a less openly partisan outlet.)

    And even if Trump flops, the interview will come so late in the primary season that it will likely have little impact on the final voting tallies among Republican voters.

    The only interested partisan party not celebrating? The GOP. Because for the Republican Party, the whole Fox interview spectacle represents the latest Trump-fueled mess, as the marauding Frankenstein’s monster wreaks havoc on the way to the Republican convention this summer.

    Indeed, the ongoing Fox News/Trump saga represents something of a Keystone Kops production for both the GOP and Fox.

    Journalistically you’d think the spectacle would be something of a negative for Fox News -- the idea of Kelly being a target of Trump’s attacks and then trying to calm the waters by visiting his office to ask for an interview in person. (Has Anderson Cooper ever done that?) But Fox signaled a long time ago that journalism and truth telling aren’t what drives their operation. It’s ratings, and whenever possible, Republican propaganda that remain paramount.

    Fox cares about ratings and buzz, and most likely Kelly’s prime-time interview with Trump can deliver both, especially since much of the mainstream media positions itself as Kelly’s collective publicist, churning out endless puff pieces about her. She and Fox News can expect lots of praise for her performance.

    She’s an "independent" "rising star" with a "reputation for asking tough questions to anyone,” CBS Sunday Morning’s Charlie Rose recently stressed.

    Note that Rose insisted Kelly’s “willingness to take on some of America's big name conservatives, quickly made Kelly a rising star" at Fox News, which makes no sense. Why would taking on conservatives at a proudly partisan and conservative network propel Kelly’s career? It didn’t.

    But her strategic use of very occasional bouts of conservative pushback provides the press with anecdotal evidence it needs to push the narrative that reporters, and Kelly, were comfortable with: Journalism flourishes at Fox News!

    The incident that set off the feud was Kelly publicly (and deservedly) challenging Trump on his long record of noxious comments about women at a debate last August. (He promptly freaked out.) The press accolades began pouring in. She’s a “feminist icon of sorts,” with “star power” that rivals Julia Roberts, claimed Vanity Fair.

    The press turned a blind eye in order to promote Kelly. But readers of Media Matters know the unpleasant truth:

    She has frequently hosted an anti-LGBT hate group leader on her show, made flippant comments about racism and police brutality, and promoted conservative falsehoods about Planned Parenthood and the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Kelly is notorious in her own right for shaming and blaming black victims of police brutality.

    Doesn’t it bother journalists that they’re holding up as a newsroom paragon somebody with an ugly record of supporting race baiting and homophobia? I’m curious which groups of people Kelly has to offend before elite journalists take notice.

    But none of that likely concerns her now. Kelly has her Trump interview to conduct for her star turn special, which Fox will endlessly promote, and Trump himself might even benefit from it.

    It’s the Republican Party that’s left asking itself how its 2016 presidential campaign devolved into a cable news soap opera.

  • As Trump Tries To Remake His Image, Why Isn’t The Press Mocking Him As Inauthentic?

    Calling Clinton A Phony Has Been Media Staple For Years

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Have we ever seen a presidential campaign be so open about trying to unveil a candidate makeover the way we’ve seen Donald Trump’s team tip off his new look in recent days?

    Huddling with nervous Republican elites, Trump’s senior aide Paul Manafort recently assured them the candidate’s “image is going to change,” according to a New York Times report. "You'll start to see more depth of the person, the real person. You'll see a real different way," Manafort stressed, according to the Associated Press. Trump to date has been “projecting an image" and "the part that he's been playing is now evolving,” the aide guaranteed members of the Republican National Committee.

    No equivocation here: Trump’s changing gears, and the person you’ve seen up to now has been putting on an elaborate act. 

    The attempted image makeover comes as Trump battles historically awful favorable ratings heading into the general election season.

    But the brazenness -- the openness -- of the move is startling simply because the Trump campaign seems to fear no backlash from the press for orchestrating an image makeover. And so far, Trump aides appear to be right. Because unlike previous instances when pundits and reporters thought they caught prominent candidates trying to change their stripes (especially when Al Gore and Hillary Clinton were the media targets), most of the press hasn’t erupted to denounce Trump for being a would-be charlatan. They haven’t cried out about his lack of genuineness.

    The fact is, much of the political press has spent the last nine months touting Trump’s supposed authenticity and praising his allegedly candid campaigning style. But now faced with evidence to the contrary, and faced with evidence coming directly from Trump’s campaign, the same press corps seems unwilling to puncture the previous Mr. Authentic storyline. The press seems unwilling to admit that perhaps they’ve been duped by Trump and the “image” he projected.  

    Even after noting the candidate’s pending image change, National Public Radio stressed, “Still, a subdued, presidential Trump will likely continue to be a unique brand of presidential candidate.”

    So even if Trump transparently sheds a new political skin, he’ll still be a “unique brand.”

    All of this runs contrary to the Beltway press’ well-established rules: If you attempt an image makeover during the campaign season, you will be ridiculed as a phony and a fraud and as someone who’s surrounded by so many overeager handlers that you’re incapable of understanding who you really are.

    For the campaign press, there really is no greater sin than being a phony; than being out of touch with your core beliefs. (Even Mitt Romney got singed by the press in 2012 when he was seen as trying to pull off a costume change mid-campaign.)

    Those have been the clearly marked ground rules. But for Trump? Apparently those rules don’t apply the same way, because his campaign is trying to retool the candidate’s image, yet the move hasn’t received instant and outraged pushback from the press.

    In fact, the media subtext I’m picking up is that Trump is smart to try to alter his image; that it’s a savvy move on his part to better position himself for the general election.

    “The change in tone is absolutely necessary,” wrote the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, who noted the new Trump incarnation on display during his New York primary victory speech “was markedly more disciplined, gentler and more appealing than the version of Trump we've seen for much of the last year.”

    So there’s no denial that an attempted makeover is underway. Everyone sees it. What’s missing is the outsized mockery.

    It's true that Trump’s new image has sparked some media denunciations, sprinkled around in recent days if you go looking for them. And yes, some members of the media have claimed Trump’s makeover is a bogus one and that the loudmouth candidate won’t be able to suddenly become presidential. But that’s different than calling out Trump for being inauthentic and for being a phony for trying on a new look.

    In contrast, when it came to Gore and Clinton image denunciations, you didn’t need to search them out. They arrived in buckets, scooped up from tidal waves of media condemnations.

    The dominant media theme from the 2000 campaign was that Gore was a phony, forever in search of a new image.

    For instance, during the 2000 campaign the press spun a tall tale about how Gore had supposedly been counseled to start wearing more “earth tone” colored clothing, and then laughed and belittled the candidate about it for weeks and months. For the press, it was a perfect example confirming their hunch that Gore just didn’t know who he was. (And don’t get me started on the media’s insane pile-on when, post-campaign, Gore grew a beard.)

    As for Hillary Clinton, there’s an entire press canon on the topic of her supposed lack of authenticity. The Beltway press for years has worked in unison with Republicans on this theme, working to depict Clinton as a calculating fraud.

    Remember when she teared up and let some emotion show on the eve of the New Hampshire primary in 2008? The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd responded with one of the meanest, most spiteful columns of that campaign season. (Headline: “Can Hillary Cry Her Way Back To The White House?”)

    Late last summer there was another wave of Clinton’s-not-authentic coverage. The Wall Street Journal suggested so much of what she does sounds "scripted and poll-tested." Politico declared she's a White House hopeful "with an authenticity problem." The Washington Post insisted, "Her campaign has struggled to present her as authentic and relatable." And McClatchy Newspapers asked "Is Hillary Clinton Authentic Enough for Voters," and likened her to Richard Nixon.

    Or you can just Google the evergreen topic:

    Hillary Clinton's inauthentic self - The Washington Post

    Hillary's Authentic Inauthenticity - National Review Online

    Maybe Hillary Clinton Isn't Fake Enough | New Republic

    Hillary Clinton the Inauthentic | RealClearPolitics

    So where are the judgmental denunciations of Trump’s attempted image makeover? Where’s the media finger wagging about how Trump doesn’t really know who he is?

  • Trump’s Media Makeover Game

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    If you noticed that the last two Sunday mornings were slightly less chaotic on the talk show circuit, that’s because Donald Trump broke with his longstanding TV tradition and did not appear. (He didn’t even call in.) For five months running, Trump had been a fixture on the Sunday shows (he’s made 70 appearances since the beginning of 2015), spouting off endlessly and often creating controversy as producers watched their Trump-fueled ratings climb.

    It’s been a win-win for Trump and the press.

    The blueprint looked like this: Trump played the role of reality TV star turned-carnival barker while the press cheered him on, feasting off the clicks and audience surges he constantly delivered.

    Missing for too long from the equation? In-depth reporting and holding the blustery candidate responsible for his often fact-free statements. “I don’t think he’s been held accountable by the broadcast media for his erroneous statements and repeated lies,” Trump biographer Tim O’Brien tells me.

    The author of TrumpNation: The Art of Being Donald, O’Brien gives the press a D- grade for its covering of Trump as a presidential hopeful. He’s especially critical of cable news’ open-door policy of Trump coverage, such as live, unfiltered broadcasts of his rallies. “They give him the backyard to run around and then train their cameras on him to see what happens,” says O’Brien.

    But now, Trump is taking a step back and turning down media invitations. He’s also supposedly trying to roll out a new, more “presidential” image.

    Will the press take the bait?

    There’s no question that there’s been a makeover attempt within the Trump campaign in recent days. According to press reports, longtime political operative Paul Manafort has essentially taken over the campaign. The move has been widely seen as an effort to tighten up the operation. One key trait: pulling Trump out of the media spotlight where he’s been living for the last nine months.

    The campaign staff shakeup and Trump’s absence from the Sunday shows “give the impression that campaign veteran Manafort has taken the reigns and directed Trump to scale back on some of the off-the-cuff behaviors that have gotten the campaign negative coverage in the past,” wrote conservative blogger Larry O’Connor.

    The new-look Trump was unveiled Tuesday night after his New York primary victory when he gave an unusually succinct victory address and avoided his usual partisan insults.

    Right on cue, political commentators swooned over the costume change from Trump, giving him credit for not insulting his opponents and (temporarily) dialing back the buffoonery.

    “He actually called him Senator Cruz!” gushed ABC World News Tonight’s David Wright. “The consummate deal-maker changing his sales pitch to close the deal. The tone, more presidential.” (Old habits apparently die hard -- within a day, Trump was back to calling Cruz “Lyin’ Ted.”)

    To repeat, the press gave Trump credit for not brazenly insulting people during his victory speech. And overnight, the press is hyping as “presidential” a candidate who’s spent the last nine months wallowing in campaign bigotry. Talk about a standard that’s been invented out of whole cloth just for him.

    Commentators might be playing up the new, kinder and gentler Trump, “but where’s the evidence” anything has changed, asks Trump biographer O’Brien. So far there is none.

    Meanwhile, note that candidates who try to unveil a new look mid-campaign usually get called out by the media’s authenticity police. But there’s been very little of that regarding Trump this week; very little mocking of him for attempting to construct a new public persona on the fly. 

    We’ll soon know for sure whether Trump has any plans to abandon the thuggery that’s defined his campaign to date. But his absence from the Sunday shows the past two weeks suggests the campaign may be trying to throttle back his media availability to some extent. Instead of dashing in front of television cameras, or speed dialing into news programs, Trump has taken a step back, as witnessed by his recent Sunday show hiatus. 

    In doubt is whether Trump’s stepping back from his shiny-object media strategy, which the press gladly supported since last summer. “Every time he needs to raise his visibility, change the subject, or respond to an attack, he says something outrageous and the cycle starts again,” wrote Joel Simon at the Columbia Journalism Review.

    We’ve seen the drill over and over. He insulted Mexicans! He insulted Sen. John McCain! He insulted Megyn Kelly! He insulted Carly Fiorina! He insulted the Pope! He insulted Ted Cruz’s wife! Months of news cycles have been robotically handed over to the Trump shiny-object coverage.

    That in turn has served as one of the media’s justifications for showering Trump with unprecedented attention: They treat Trump differently because Trump acts so differently!

    Trump didn’t act like other politicians, the press claimed. He wasn’t guarded in his comments. He wasn’t surrounded by consultants. Trump was authentic and controversial. Or so goes the argument. And best of all, Trump gave lots and lots of television interviews. His sound bites demanded unending press attention.

    In the unlikely event Trump actually manages to find a softer, more “presidential” tone, and become slightly media shy, will the press dial back its obsessive, celebrity-like coverage, and apply a more critical eye to his wild claims?