Hillary Clinton gets far less air time and far fewer column inches in mainstream media coverage than does Donald Trump. And while that’s a huge problem, it’s not the only evidence of lopsided coverage: The tone is out of balance, as well. Trump’s outrageous pronouncements, outright lies, and non-policies are frequently quoted as the “truth-telling” statements of a political outsider; while Clinton’s in-depth policy ideas and long record of public service are ignored, as right-wing manufactured non-scandals are highlighted, and she is portrayed as the dishonest politician.
That inequality of coverage—especially in the way the media characterizes each candidate– is the subject of Paul Krugman’s column in the New York Times today. Krugman draws a parallel between this year’ media coverage and that of George W. Bush vs. Al Gore in 2000. And we all know how that ended.
You see, one candidate, George W. Bush, was dishonest in a way that was unprecedented in U.S. politics. Most notably, he proposed big tax cuts for the rich while insisting, in raw denial of arithmetic, that they were targeted for the middle class. These campaign lies presaged what would happen during his administration — an administration that, let us not forget, took America to war on false pretenses.
Yet throughout the campaign most media coverage gave the impression that Mr. Bush was a bluff, straightforward guy, while portraying Al Gore — whose policy proposals added up, and whose critiques of the Bush plan were completely accurate — as slippery and dishonest. Mr. Gore’s mendacity was supposedly demonstrated by trivial anecdotes, none significant, some of them simply false. No, he never claimed to have invented the internet. But the image stuck.
And right now I and many others have the sick, sinking feeling that it’s happening again.
True, there aren’t many efforts to pretend that Donald Trump is a paragon of honesty. But it’s hard to escape the impression that he’s being graded on a curve. If he manages to read from a TelePrompter without going off script, he’s being presidential. If he seems to suggest that he wouldn’t round up all 11 million undocumented immigrants right away, he’s moving into the mainstream. And many of his multiple scandals, like what appear to be clear payoffs to state attorneys general to back off investigating Trump University, get remarkably little attention.
Meanwhile, we have the presumption that anything Hillary Clinton does must be corrupt, most spectacularly illustrated by the increasingly bizarre coverage of the Clinton Foundation.
Krugman accuses the media of using many misleading, loaded words in its reporting about Clinton, but fewer of these same terms regarding Trump. .
If reports about a candidate talk about how something “raises questions,” creates “shadows,” or anything similar, be aware that these are all too often weasel words used to create the impression of wrongdoing out of thin air.
And he offers sound advice on how to evaluate candidates:
…the best ways to judge a candidate’s character are to look at what he or she has actually done, and what policies he or she is proposing. Mr. Trump’s record of bilking students, stiffing contractors and more is a good indicator of how he’d act as president; Mrs. Clinton’s speaking style and body language aren’t. George W. Bush’s policy lies gave me a much better handle on who he was than all the up-close-and-personal reporting of 2000, and the contrast between Mr. Trump’s policy incoherence and Mrs. Clinton’s carefulness speaks volumes today.
In other words, focus on the facts. America and the world can’t afford another election tipped by innuendo