Earlier today, the candidate currently leading in the polls for the Republican presidential nomination called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” That was, of course, Donald Trump. As Jeffrey Goldberg just tweeted, “Donald Trump is now an actual threat to national security. He’s providing jihadists ammunition for their campaign to demonize the US.”
On the heels of Trump’s proposed change for America, we will be changing how we cover him at The Huffington Post. Back in July, we announced our decision to put our coverage of Trump’s presidential campaign in our Entertainment section instead of our Politics section. “Our reason is simple,” wrote Ryan Grim and Danny Shea. “Trump’s campaign is a sideshow.”
Since then Trump’s campaign has certainly lived up to that billing. But as today’s vicious pronouncement makes abundantly clear, it’s also morphed into something else: an ugly and dangerous force in American politics. So we will no longer be covering his campaign in Entertainment. But that’s not to say we’ll be treating it as if it were a normal campaign.
Our decision in July was made because we refused to go along with the idea, based simply on poll numbers, that Trump’s candidacy was actually a serious and good faith effort to present ideas on how best to govern the country. We continue to believe this to be true — and will continue to let it guide our coverage — but much has changed.
Yes, there was certainly no shortage of ugly comments from the beginning, as he kicked off his campaign with outrageous comments about Mexicans. But at first, this over-the-top xenophobia, though disgusting, played as the sour shtick of a washed-up insult comic. Now that Trump, aided by the media, has doubled down on the cruelty and know-nothingness that defined his campaign’s early days, the ‘can you believe he said that?’ novelty has curdled and congealed into something repellent and threatening — laying bare a disturbing aspect of American politics.
We believe that the way we cover the campaign should reflect this shift. And part of that involves never failing to remind our audience who Trump is and what his campaign really represents.
As Jay Rosen recently observed:
“To an extent unrealized before this year, the role of the press in presidential campaigns relied on shared assumptions within the political class and election industry about what the rules were and what the penalty would be for violating them … These assumptions were rarely tested because the risk seemed too high, and because risk-averse professionals — strategists, they’re called — were in charge of the campaigns.”
That is, most politicians knew not to say outlandish and offensive and dangerous things because they knew they’d be punished for it. As Rosen continues, “Those beliefs have now collapsed because Trump ‘tested’ and violated most of them — and he is still leading in the polls.”
But that doesn’t mean we in the media should in any way let Trump or those who would follow his footsteps off the hook. So as we cover his daily campaign, we’ll constantly remind the public of what he stands for, citing references and providing links.
1) His enthusiasm for creating a database of all Muslims in the United States.
2) His ongoing lies about Muslims in New Jersey celebrating 9/11.
3) His status as birther-in-chief, cynically sowing doubt about President Obama’s legitimacy as the duly elected President of the United States.
4) His misogyny — here’s just one HuffPost piece on this, but there’s no shortage of these.
5) His xenophobia and scapegoating of immigrants, including his lies about Mexican immigrants and his ardent desire to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.
6) His unmistakable passion for bullying. Again, there’s no shortage of examples, but you could start with his defense of supporters who roughed up a protester at one of his rallies or his ridiculing of a disabled New York Times reporter.
And we’re happy to see we’re not alone in our desire to present the unvarnished, un-euphemized Trump. Last week, The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank opened a column by writing, “Let’s not mince words: Donald Trump is a bigot and a racist.” And he went on to back that up, which isn’t hard and is the approach any reporter with an interest in telling the truth to his or her readers should adopt.
So if Trump’s words and actions are racist, we’ll call them racist. If they’re sexist, we’ll call them sexist. We won’t shrink from the truth or be distracted by the showmanship.
Of course, Trump isn’t the only candidate out there spouting extreme and irresponsible messages, but he’s in a unique position in the wall-to-wall coverage, from Meet the Press to SNL, that he elicits. By not calling out Trump’s campaign for what it is, many in the media, addicted to the ratings buzz he continues to deliver, have been legitimizing his ugly views.
As we’ve seen in the Republican race so far, Trump’s worst comments don’t occur in a vacuum — or land without repercussions. They affect the tenor of the conversation, frequently moving the line between what’s considered mainstream and what’s considered unabashedly extreme and unacceptable.
So we’ll not only be covering the ways Trump’s campaign is unique in recent American politics, but also the disastrous impact it continues to have on his fellow candidates — and the national conversation.
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