Years ago, when I first started writing this column, I would lick my journalistic chops at the chance to do battle with American’s most famous Wing Nuts.
We’re talking Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, Ann Coulter, Ted Nugent and others whose inflammatory rhetoric and total disregard for factual reporting was shocking.
My intent was to expose their hypocrisy and set the record straight. I was never at a loss for subject material.
But somewhere down the line, I decided that this kind of subject material was nothing more than a “he said, she said” exercise and that all I was doing was calling attention to people whose notoriety didn’t need my help.
Outrage was a saleable commodity and this bunch was making a handsome living pedaling it.
It seemed I was just pouring jet fuel onto the inferno that is political discourse in this country. More importantly, I was often calling for civility while being uncivil myself.
I took a pledge, solemnly administered to myself by myself, never to mention any of them again unless there was some overriding news value involved. That was nearly four years ago.
Now comes Donald Trump and my pledge is being sorely tested.
It’s the same message, just being bellowed from a bigger orifice.
Like Beck and Limbaugh, Trump’s philosophy, if that’s not too strong a word, resonates with disenfranchised working class white folks who view our changing world with fear and trepidation. He promises to smite our enemies, drive immigrants from our shores and make America strong again, whatever that means. Specifics? That’s for the other guy,
The irony is, of course, is that this billionaire Pied Piper who lives in a tower wouldn’t get caught dead hanging out with most of the people who vote for him. Don’t expect to see him having a beer with the boys down at the Dew Drop Inn.
So should I slip into my armor, pick up my lance and start jousting with the Trump campaign? After all, he is a serious presidential candidate, not just some poisonous pundit. And his policies certainly deserve scrutiny.
I probably won’t although I reserve the right to change my mind.
First, I don’t believe he’ll ever be the nominee of his party. The Republican Party views Trump as some disruptive crazy uncle who shows up periodically and wreaks havoc.
He is even seen as running a "false flag operation" for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and hopes to help her secure the presidency by obtaining the Republican nomination, or running as a third party candidate, which Trump has been reluctant to rule out.
If you think that’s goofy, Jeb Bush believes it.
Second, Trump is receiving more coverage than all the Democratic candidates combined. Oddly, even the media is complaining.
CNN staffers recently complained about the excessive coverage of Donald Trump as well as CNN President Jeff Zucker’s directive to cover the presidential candidate ad nauseam, according to published reports.
The Huffington Post opined that anyone who’s tuned in to CNN lately will know what the staff is upset about. The network airs Trump rallies and press conferences in full -- regardless of their news value -- and continues to dedicate precious airtime to segments about Trump’s hair or his latest Twitter outburst.
Even Fox News is fed up.
“Less than a week after the worst terror attack on America since 9/11, we are in a full-blown media circus,” Fox political commentator Megyn Kelly said recently. “Not about these two killers and their terror ties, but about something that a man who is not the president would do if by chance his party nominates him to be president and then the same general electorate that elected Barack Obama twice happens to choose him, Donald Trump, as their president.”
She repeatedly said it’s amazing that everyone is talking about this not-gonna-happen policy when we should be talking about terrorism, telling her audience, “We will not be devoting an hour or a half hour or 20 minutes to what Trump said tonight.”
And, of course, the blanket coverage of Trump is fueling his surge in the polls. The Washington Post’s John Sides explains it this way:
“When a pollster interrupts people’s lives and asks them about a presidential primary that doesn’t formally begin for months, a significant number of people will mention whichever candidate happens to be in the news these days. It’s basically a version of what’s called the ‘availability heuristic.’ And for any causal consumer of news, Trump is very available these days.”
It’s also called pack journalism and almost everybody who has ever been in the business has been guilty of it.
If your newspaper/TV news operation/website doesn’t report that Trump wants to ban all Muslims immigrants from the U.S., you will not only look foolish, but it may make you look like you’re ignoring a major candidate, justifiably or not. So you publish it along with any other outrageous quotes he can produce.
The answer is balanced coverage. Write about Trump all you want but write about the other candidates as well in equal doses. You’ll be doing a service to yourself and your country.
As for me, I’ll stay on the sidelines. At least for now.
Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector 1.