Love is in the air, thanks to the major infatuation of the 2016 Election: “The Media (heart) Donald Trump.”
It’s an abusive relationship. Trump often singles out reporters as “dishonest” or “incompetent,” and yet they come back for more. He banned a newspaper from a campaign event in retaliation for a critical editorial, humiliated reporters by quoting back to them what he alleged were mistakes in their stories, and threatened to weaken libel laws.
The television networks are especially smitten. Tune into CNN before a Trump speech, and you might have to spend the first 10 minutes before Trump arrives staring at an empty podium. There are three other candidates running for the Republican nomination, all of them desperate for media attention, and a major cable news network would rather focus their cameras on a slab of wood that is about to be touched by their beloved.
The romance got off to a rocky start. When the real estate tycoon entered the presidential race last June, he got a rough reception from reporters, editors, producers and anchors. His offensive remarks about Mexican immigrants, Muslims, and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly were not warmly received.
But by the time the next ratings book came out, the media had given into the attraction. By now, it’s pretty clear that – as Politico’s Glenn Thrush discussed with radio host Hugh Hewitt recently – the media are actively pushing Trump as the preferred GOP presidential candidate and talking down any other candidate who interferes with this narrative.
Look at poor Marco Rubio. The fact that the Florida senator is third in the delegate count didn’t stop the chattering class at MSNBC’s Morning Joe from recently declaring the nomination battle to be a “three-person race” among Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich. Co-host Joe Scarborough even asserted that – despite the media hype over the last few years – Rubio should never have gotten this far because he never had a national operation, platform, or constituency. Yet, it’s also true Rubio was often attacked mercilessly during the campaign by Trump, Cruz, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie.
Let me get this straight. According to some commentators, Rubio is a lightweight who was never a threat to anyone, but many of his opponents thought he was enough of a threat that he had to be eliminated?
The media have become too powerful, and gone from being the referee to being a player in the game.
It can be a little thing, such as when CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley felt the need, before the New Hampshire primary, to qualify a report that showed Bernie Sanders leading Hillary Clinton in the Granite State by noting that Sanders hails from neighboring Vermont.
Or it can be a big thing, like the media’s obnoxious favoritism toward Trump. According to every analysis that has been done, the billionaire gets far and away the most airtime from the networks.
It’s why – in a sign of just how cozy the relationship really is – Scarborough, CNN’s Erin Burnett and other New York-based anchors and commentators tend to address the GOP front-runner simply as “Donald.” When was the last time you heard another candidate addressed as “Hillary” or “Bernie” or “Ted” or “Marco?”
And as Thrush told Hewitt, the Trump love affair isn’t limited to television but extends to some print and online publications. The Politico writer even acknowledged that, on any given day, a majority of the most popular stories on his site have to do with Trump. The businessman helps the bottom line.
CBS President and CEO Les Moonves admitted as much recently when he said that, while Trump might be bad for America, he is “damn good” for business.
But this is also about geography. Trump is a New Yorker, just like many of the people who cover him and the media bigwigs who sign their checks. He was even a fixture in the entertainment business himself as a former reality television star. For the elite East Coast media, Donald is like family.
Love fades. Everything will change if Trump faces off against Clinton in the general election. The liberal media will ultimately try to destroy what they have created.
But, for now, the media are busy promoting one of their own, even if it hurts the country. And, rest assured, it does.
Reach Ruben Navarrette at firstname.lastname@example.org.