Several independent studies have confirmed what is intuitively obvious, and frankly, staggering: Donald Trump receives more favorable national media coverage than Hillary Clinton. Just ask Mark Halperin, the quintessential media insider, who recently conceded: “There’s a deep well of anti-Clinton sentiment in the press.” The national media are stumped by Trump, seeking false “balance” (and clicks) out of deference to his voters. Yet somehow, that deference is absent in Hillary’s case; she and her voters are maligned and marginalized at every turn. This open letter proposes a solution to the imbalanced coverage.
To the National Media:
I write this letter as a concerned American, a father who fears for his children in the event of a Trump presidency. And I write it as the CEO of a political media company with a community of over one million people whose engagement rates rival the largest media platforms in the U.S.
On the one hand, I know most of you understand that Donald is a menace to America and that Hillary is the only plausible president in the race. On the other hand, I recognize these facts:
a) You’re chasing clicks and therefore you want a contest.
b) You face relentless (and ridiculous) accusations from the right that you have a “liberal bias.”
c) You feel compelled to appear even-handed in a misguided quest for “balanced” reporting.
d) The price of entry into the elite media club is open disdain for Hillary Clinton.
And so you twist yourselves into rhetorical pretzels trying to legitimize Trump’s unhinged behavior.
How else to explain this NY Times headline?
Now take a look at how it’s done with Hillary:
See, it shouldn’t be that hard to cover Donald in a way that feels fair. Simply apply the three immutable tenets of Hillary reporting:
- Always assume bad character and attribute malicious motives.
- Completely overlook and invisibilize supporters.
- Focus relentlessly on negatives — and portray positives as negatives.
Now apply that same standard to Donald:
- Always assume anything he says or does is corrupt. Start from the position that he’s malicious and manipulative, as you do with Hillary. Presume everything he does is part of a duplicitous scheme. Treat him like a grotesque caricature of a human being, an ambitious automaton, a power-hungry monster devoid of the most basic humanity. Attribute nefarious motives to anything he says, even the way he laughs or smiles.
- Pay no mind to his supporters. None whatsoever. Don’t worry about offending them. If you have the slightest pang of guilt, just keep in mind how you’ve continually dismissed Hillary’s 15.8 million voters with your demeaning “enthusiasm gap” narrative. Tell your audience only about the people who don’t like him, never those who do. In every interview, ask him why he’s so despised. Focus relentlessly on every negative data point to portray him as an isolated outcast, just as you do with Hillary.
- Roadblock every negative story, just like you’ve done with Hillary’s emails, which our research shows you’ve covered every single day for an entire year. Obsess, obsess, obsess. Endlessly obsess until your audience goes numb from the repetition, until a single word like “transcripts” or “emails” or “foundation” conjures oceans of opprobrium. Probe every permutation of his words and actions and fit them into damaging frames concocted by rival opposition researchers. Examine every nook and cranny of what you consider to be his rank awfulness, just as you do with Hillary.
I could go on, but you get the point.
Here’s the bottom line: With Donald inviting the assassination of his opponent, calling President Obama the “founder of ISIS,” attacking a Gold Star family, calling on Russia to hack us, openly courting white nationalists, and displaying a total lack of preparedness for the office he seeks, you are facing an ethical dilemma. Do you continue treating Hillary with contempt or do you tell the truth about Trump?
The decisions you make, the decisions we each make in the next several weeks, will affect the fate of our country.
That’s not hyperbole.
Donald’s ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz — who knows him a lot better than you or I do — explains the stakes:
“I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”
You can’t just keep pretending that Donald and Hillary are equivalent. They’re not. Nor can you insist that their unfavorable ratings are remotely comparable. One candidate is a dedicated and admired public servant who is smeared and lied about simply for existing. The other is a bloviating bigot who lacks the most basic common decency. One candidate is trusted and respected by the most accomplished people in the world. The other is an intolerant and dangerous bully who is toxic to his own party and mocked across the globe.
Let that sink in. The candidate who wallows in bigotry, who incites violence, who verbally abuses his critics, who is a self-avowed threat to the free press, gets less negative coverage than his opponent, a lifelong public servant who is one of the most accomplished and admired women on the planet.
In return for your obsequious reporting, he bashes you with unconcealed glee:
It’s a toxic dynamic that only you have the power to change. He never will. Why would he?
If you’re worried that you’ll alienate your Republican audience by telling the truth about how ill-prepared Donald is for the presidency, my advice is simple: Be fair to him in the same way you’re “fair” to Hillary — namely, by doing your best to undermine his candidacy and damage his public image.
And if you think your ratings will suffer by covering both candidates equally, consider the fact that her millions of supporters will flock to anyone who has the guts to report on her without the usual cynicism. That’s not conjecture. As the author of the most shared article about Hillary of 2016 (half a million shares and counting), I know for a fact that unfiltered reporting on Hillary and her enthusiastic supporters is a path to success. There’s a hunger for fair coverage of Hillary.
Here’s what I mean by fair:
Don’t squander your credibility like the AP by publishing dishonest hit pieces on a foundation that saves children’s lives, drawing a false equivalence between Trump’s conspiracy-mongering and Hillary’s truth-telling, and writing puff pieces then scrubbing tweets about them.
Don’t follow in CNN’s footsteps by hiring former campaign managers who are still on the Trump campaign payroll.
Don’t indulge the kind of embarrassing headline writing employed by the Washington Post a day after Hillary delivered the speech of the campaign: “Clinton, Trump exchange racially charged accusations.” (No, WaPo, Trump falsely and disingenuously calling Hillary a “bigot” is not remotely the same as Hillary’s litany of Trump’s own words.)
I know it’s hard to let go of Beltway narratives, to defy the conventional media wisdom that Hillary must be attacked at all costs. I know you must struggle with your own conscience sometimes.
So I say this to you respectfully: Get your act together and start covering Donald the same way you cover Hillary — with dripping disdain, boundless skepticism and utter indifference to his voters.
Stop acting so mystified by his obnoxious behavior. Stop pondering if he magically lives outside the normal rules of politics. He doesn’t. He’s a frighteningly dangerous blowhard (and deep down, a coward) who knows you won’t cover him with the same contempt you reserve for Hillary. So far, he’s been right.
You have fewer than 80 days to show us your humanity, prove him wrong, and help save your country from a demagogue.