Hillary Clinton was riding high in the polls two weeks after the Philadelphia Convention. Against Donald Trump, the national polls had her either in the double digits, or high in the single realm. So were the swing state polls. Smugly confident she’d bagged Colorado and Virginia already, her campaign and Priorities USA, the super pac running ads in her support, pulled anti-Trump ads from the two states and moved shops elsewhere.
Clinton was coasting home to the White House, the pundits opined almost unanimously. Talk of Trump’s political obituary became dominant on cable news and on the editorial pages as Republicans in Congress seeking re-election frantically sought escape routes for the hills because they feared their nominee was headed for a gory political slaughter.
Not so fast, said the mainstream media. How could it ever let that happen? The contest was becoming less exciting, it decided. If only for the great ratings it would generate and the opportunity it would provide for high-gear beltway blather, the media thought it would be great once again to have a horserace, and to do that, it would have to ignore the many problems of Trump: income tax returns, birtherism, racism, temperament, scams, Trump university, lies, lies, and lies; and instead focus laser-like on Clinton’s headaches: emails, FBI probe, Benghazi, pseudo-health problems, warts and all.
Very soon, the media began to get rewards for its investments. The law of hydraulic had set in as Clinton started to sink in the polls while Trump was rising. Unknowingly, Clinton aided the media conspiracy against her: she ceded public space to Trump in August, and the reality television expert adroitly used the time to bask in the glow of media attention. Clinton would tell you she was busy raising huge amounts of dollars to be used partly to bury Trump nonstop under the dunghill of negative ads. But how effective have been those ads anyway?
In his own crazy effort to make the contest a horserace, Matt Lauer of NBC, while moderating last Wednesday’s so-called “Commander-in-Chief Forum” between the two candidates, let Trump slide by posing fluff to him as questions, and by stubbornly refusing to call the candidate out on a whole slew of lies he had told before, and was telling during, the forum. Yet, Lauer, who reportedly gets paid $20 million, saw it fit to grill Clinton almost endlessly on emails, leaving out more substantive matters to wither on the vine. It was the first major assignment of that sort Lauer was handling, and he not only flunked it miserably, he revealed himself to be such an insufferably pathetic interviewer with no understanding of what his job was on that occasion.
While not having proved himself to be substantially grounded in policy and presidentially suited for office, Trump, all the same, reaped the benefits of optics from Lauer’s singularly rigged show, as was also the case in Mexico during Trump’s trip there the previous week. “Matt Lauer’s Pathetic Interview Made Me Think Trump Can Actually Win,” wrote Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine. Chait made a great point there.
Several battleground state polls released in the last 48 hours now show a highly competitive race, with Trump even edging slightly ahead in some states where he was down by considerable margins. The Trump campaign is looking buoyed by what it is seeing. Republicans in Congress on the verge of disowning the Trump campaign only weeks ago, are now invigorated by the current turnaround, and are seeking to hurt Clinton’s chances further by talk of more probes into her emails.
Discombobulated by the reality staring her in the face, Clinton addressed her first press conference in many months on Thursday, during which she held Trump’s feet to the fire. She’s going to keep doing that. Anyone who thinks Trump cannot win should do himself/herself a favor: think again. Even parts of the mainstream media now realize this, and are starting to make amends. After months of harassing Clinton over emails and brown-nosing Trump, the folks at MSNBC’s Morning Joe are now sounding guilt-ridden. That, at the very least, was the impression I got listening to Mika Brzezinski and Mike Barnicle Friday morning.
In an attitude of self-flagellation that could mark a change in how it covers the remainder of the contest, the Washington Post wrote in its editorial of September 8: “Imagine how history would judge today’s Americans if, looking back at this election, the record showed that voters empowered a dangerous man because of . . . a minor email scandal. There is no equivalence between Ms. Clinton’s wrongs and Mr. Trump’s manifest unfitness for office.”
But we have yet to see any sign from the New York Times that it is also now willing to come to its senses after months of conducting itself disgracefully in its coverage of Hillary Rodham Clinton vis-a-vis Donald J. Trump.