Brian Beutler has a little fun with the conservatives who insist that The Media went easy on Donald Trump, knowing that he’d be an easy kill (or something) if he got through the primaries. This is not a fringe group, or some guy on Twitter — it’s a group that includes Sen. Ted Cruz, whom we all expect to run for president until the FEC files a restraining order against him.
In general, campaigns outgun and outpace the press at investigating rival candidates (particularly with respect to archival information that can’t be found online, and that requires expertise to obtain and decipher). They have more resources, no daily print deadlines, and no need to worry about impartiality. For a variety of reasons, the other Republican campaigns and anti-Trump activists did an absolutely abysmal job sifting through his dirty laundry between June 2015 and today. Bad researchers might’ve been part of the problem, but for too long most Republicans mistakenly assumed Trump would collapse on his own—and why bother investigating someone who was sure to implode?
This is all true. Tim Miller, the very smart co-founder of the oppo group America Rising who went on to be Jeb Bush’s game but constantly beleaguered spokesman, has admitted that Bush simply didn’t have the resources to dig into Trump by the time Trump became a threat. Cruz himself openly whiffed on attacking Trump on the theory that his support would collapse and he would reap the benefits. (Cruz’s tendency to delineate his plans while reporters listen is one of the things I like best about him.)
But this gripe is even worse than we’re letting on.
No one’s trying to protect Hillary Clinton. That’s the undercurrent here, and it must be based on zero conversations with political reporters. Washington mostly dreads the Clinton Restoration, with its promises of tightly controlling media teams, jobs for people with long-nursed grudges, and — let’s be honest — none of the cool factor that Barack Obama brought with him.
Reporters did investigate Trump. He launched his bid on June 16, 2015. Within three weeks, before he had fully taken command of the race, the Washington Post was up with a story about undocumented immigrants working on his D.C. hotel. Every story you know about Trump was excavated by journalists, be it the old quotes assembled by Buzzfeed, the old court documents assembled by Wayne Barrett, or the new looks at his business failures reported by my employer and other fine outlets. If voters wanted to read it, the material was there. We could hardly force-feed it to them.
Conservative media outlets failed and want to blame everyone else. Every presidential cycle brings forth new, well-funded (at first) conservative media outlets, often with the promise of hard-hitting news that the MSM (mainstream media) won’t cover. With time (and with exceptions), they eventually regress to the mean and become hot take factories. Nobody told The Daily Signal, The Federalist, The Daily Caller, Bold, Rare, etc that they were banned from investigating Trump’s finances or past statements.
Yet they didn’t do it. To use The Federalist (which I generally like) as an example, Trump coverage usually fit into the the categories of Blaming the Media (“Trump Proves Super PACs Can’t Buy Elections, But Free Media Can“), Insisting That All is Well (“6 Best Things About Paul Ryan Being ‘Not Ready’ To Support Trump“), or keying off of facts reported by the MSM to say that Trump was going down (“If Trump Runs America Like Trump University, His Campaign Promises Are Lies“). Coverage on the right generally debated what was happening, and did not shape it. The old conservative media quandary, of too many wannabe George Will and not enough Bob Woodwards, held up. (Separately, a lot of popular right-wing media figures just kind of rode the wave.)
UPDATE: Some folks point out that I left the Washington Free Beacon off the list. It did have good Trump reporting, though I think of it more as a source of good original Hillary reporting.
When a candidate wins, more resources are used to cover him. Like I said, there has been plenty of gimlet-eyed Trump coverage. That there’s more now does not mean it was lacking before. It meant that there were X reporters in a newsroom, and Y many candidates to cover, and the opportunity cost of digging into a story that might not be about the nominee is high. (I am convinced that one reason for snarky media coverage of Sen. Rand Paul is that big resources were used to profile him, for years, and editors/reporters came to see it as a bigger wasted investment than an igloo colony in Arizona.)
The strangest contradiction of this point was probably the one Fox News viewers saw on Sunday, when my colleague Bob Woodward was chided over the resources the Post was using to crash a book about Trump.
“Are you making an equal effort, because that’s something that we’re hearing from folks, an equal effort on Hillary Clinton?” asked Chris Wallace. “You’ve got 20 people on her?”
Well! Clinton, a political figure since the 1970s, has had quite more than 20 Washington Post reporters look into her background. Several Washington Post reporters, present and past, have written books about her. What does that have to do with the effort (which I’m not part of) to power through and publish a book about Trump, in time for the election?Look at the work of Ros Helderman, who published scoop after scoop about Hillary Clinton’s email investigation, during the period when 1) that story was new and 2) she was the presumed Democratic nominee. Now, Ros is doing more about Trump.
I’m fascinated by the qualms people have about the political media. When it comes to how cable news has covered Trump’s campaign — particularly, the full coverage of his rallies, a privilege awarded to no other candidate — I share those qualms. But enough already with the blame. The Fourth Estate held nothing back.