Practically every Sunday morning, I hear a televised debate on whether the media is largely responsible for making Donald Trump the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party.
And the debate is usually by media members beating themselves up on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” CNN’s “Reliable Sources” or “Media Buzz” on Fox News.
There is no debating that broadcast and cable news programs gave Trump much more free air time than any of his 16 former rivals and initially they often didn’t hold him as accountable as they should have and allowed him to get away with generalities in his positions.
When Trump called in to a program or held a rally, the media put him on because it spelled ratings and ratings spelled financial benefit.
But what happened to the belief in the days of the late, great Edward R. Murrow that if TV shined a light on someone’s behavior a viewer would see through him or her?
It is hard to imagine that even Murrow would have stood a chance confronting Trump in today’s media climate.
Jake Tapper, who President Obama cracked during the White House Correspondents Dinner left journalism to join CNN, deserves a Murrow Award for speaking out against Trump for suggesting that the Cuban father of Ted Cruz had something to do with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I haven’t seen anything in some time like Tapper’s takedown of Trump’s comments.
“Any suggestion that Ted Cruz’s father played a role in the Kennedy assassination is ridiculous and frankly, shameful,” said a seemingly angry Tapper. “Now, that’s not an anti-Trump position or a pro-Cruz position; it’s a pro-truth position.”
The truth is that much of the free air time the media has given Trump lately is spent showing voters that even members of his own party believe that Trump’s fiscal, military and immigration policies are unconstitutional and potentially damaging to the United States and the world.
And all those concerns don’t seem to have affected Trump’s popularity. It confirms that the best media expert concerning Trump’s popularity is Trump. He was right in January when he said “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
Trump has at least one thing in common with a president revered by Republicans, Ronald Reagan: Trump also is the Teflon Man. Nothing sticks to him.
It was scary when Trump made his Fifth Avenue proclamation and even scarier to Democrats now that he likely will face a flawed Hillary Clinton, whose email crisis has exasperated members of her own party. Even if Clinton didn’t do anything criminal, it was a dumb thing to do by someone who planned to run for president again. It played to her most vulnerable qualities – likability and trust.
Although the media deserves some blame for the success of a candidate that Republican opponents called a narcissist, a bully, a bigot and a misogynist and worse, it appears it was fighting a losing battle no matter what it did.
Many Republican voters don’t care what Trump says or how he says it. Even many evangelicals who might have been disgusted by his behavior have accepted him. The voters appear to be swayed by the image Trump gives as someone who will get things done even if some of his own party leaders say they are embarrassed he is their candidate.
Some of the more amusing moments last week came from former Republican presidential candidates whom Trump referred to as “Little Marco” Rubio and “Lyin Ted” Cruz. As they tried to dance around whether they would support or vote for Trump, their careful choice of words was reminiscent of the time that President Clinton told a grand jury “it depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” when asked if he lied to his top aides about Monica Lewinsky.
In essence, they said they would rather have a wild card like Trump as president than an experienced politician who likely would continue the policies of a president who now has his highest approval ratings in years.
Trump’s ascension is another lesson in the power of television, which through “The Apprentice” helped Trump create his image as a winner. If Trump wins, all sorts of television and film actors could follow Reagan and Trump’s path and eventually run for president.
After “NCIS” is inevitably canceled, why doesn’t Mark Harmon run for president? After all, that show has been extraordinarily popular for years and his character gets things done on that show.
Now that “The Good Wife” is over and Julianna Margulies may have some free time, why doesn’t she run for president instead of wasting her time on a fictional campaign?
After George Clooney’s film career runs out of steam, why doesn’t he run for president?
OK, I actually am on board for a Clooney presidency. He showed a command of the issues on a recent “Meet the Press” and he sounds presidential already.
And what broadcast or cable network wouldn’t want to give Clooney all the free air time he wants to pump up its ratings?