The Media’s Trump Coverage Is All Wrong

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- “And I think, too, that I could say that in my years of public life, that I welcome this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook.”

How important is it that New York’s attorney general has sued President Donald Trump for fraud? I think Richard Nixon — quoted here from Nov. 17, 1973 — had it right. It’s quite important for citizens to know whether their president is a crook. 

And yet apparently many in the news media don’t agree. The lawsuit story broke Thursday and received a fair amount of coverage, but it was rapidly knocked off the front pages by an inspector general report, and then pushed out of the news almost entirely by what appears to be a feeding frenzy over family separations at the border. There was almost no mention of Trump's allegedly fraudulent foundation in the Sunday New York Times — just a couple of paragraphs deep into Maureen Dowd’s column. There don’t seem to be any recent articles on the subject at the Washington Post’s politics and opinion pages. 

This strikes me as both extraordinary, and not all that unusual: extraordinary in that it’s hard to imagine any similar story for any other president disappearing so quickly; not unusual, because we’ve seen it before with Trump. The Trump University lawsuit was treated as a peripheral series of minor one-day stories, as if it was perfectly normal for a president to pay out millions to people he defrauded. (I should note that Bloomberg Opinion has items from Noah Feldman and Francis Wilkinson published over the weekend, so here, at least, accusations that the president committed fraud count as big news.)

It’s not that the media has entirely ignored the story; indeed, it was the impressive investigative reporting from the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold that uncovered the scam Trump was running. But it has never received the kind of heavy coverage that breaks through to the vast majority of citizens who pay only modest attention to politics outside of election season. I suspect few beyond strong Democratic partisans are aware of the Trump University scandal, and if this is the kind of coverage the Trump Foundation lawsuit is going to get, then few will learn of this one. 

I have to admit I have no real explanation for it. I don’t think it’s because the “neutral” media is deliberately attempting to help Trump; after all, the massive coverage over the weekend of family separations at the border isn’t doing him any favors, and the Trump/Russia scandal has certainly received plenty of sustained coverage. Perhaps it’s a form of exhaustion from the overwhelming flow of Trump stories. Perhaps it’s a form of triage, with news organizations making a deliberate decision that this stuff isn’t as important as other scandals. Perhaps it’s a mistaken belief that everybody knows that Trump is … well, not exactly fastidious in his approach to following the law. I don’t know; I just think they’re getting it wrong. 

“People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook.” Yup. But unless the news media treats these stories as important, people aren’t going to know. 

1. Laurel Elder, Brian Frederick and Barbara Burrell at the Monkey Cage on the popularity of first ladies

2. Ryan Goodman at Just Security on Paul Manafort and the case for collusion.

3. Partisan peace seems to have broken out among Senate appropriators. Interesting — because if recent trends hold, the final bills will look a lot more like the Senate versions than the (very partisan) House efforts. Sarah Ferris reports at Politico. 

4. Jennifer Duffy at the Cook Political Report on the outlook in gubernatorial races this year. 

5. And Greg Sargent on how Republicans have exploited media norms

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

Bloomberg
Stay Updated With View News On BloombergQuint