Monday, October 15, 2018


Today Elizabeth Warren released DNA test results demonstrating that she has a Native American ancestor, as she's long claimed. Over at BuzzFeed, editor in chief Ben Smith, formerly of Politico, pretends that Warren is the real problem, because, as he sees it, she's just artificially propped up harmless old Donald Trump, who'll probably be ignored in 2020 in any case:
As Democrats look toward a presidential primary that will begin in earnest approximately 11 seconds after the midterms, candidates should be ready for a new reality, and the media for a new challenge.

The reality is that the most important pundit, commentator, and great mentioner of the 2020 primary will be President Donald Trump.

And the challenge for the media will be whether or not to let him dominate the Democratic primary.

... [Warren's] video answers a question Trump raised, takes a piece of bait he’d laid out and Warren furiously, seeing no other option, took as a symbol of her willingness to “fight.” The video is, most of all, the strongest Democratic candidate, thinking first of how to win the Democratic nomination, engaging entirely in absurd, racist terms laid out by the president of the United States.
The implication here is that if Warren had just said or done nothing, the media might have just let the "absurd" matter drop -- foolhardy Elizabeth Warren had to prove she's really tough, so she took Trump on, when the whole thing would have just blown over.

I don't know where to start with this. First of all, as I mentioned in the last post, attacks like this on Warren date back to Scott Brown's 2012 campaign; they've been a Fox staple ever since. Warren is not just dealing with one bully, as Smith suggests -- she's dealing with a gang.

Moreover, there's no question that this would have been a millstone around her neck if she hadn't addressed it head-on. After Hillary Clinton and her emails, or John Kerry and the Swift boats, Mike Dukakis and Willie Horton, can any seriously claim that Warren could have simply ignored this and expected it to go away?

Smith continues:
What’s more, Trump and the reporters covering him will be bound by an eternal truth of presidential campaign coverage: Re-election campaigns are grindingly boring. The presidency, not the campaign, is the story; the kind of narrative, conflict, and struggle for the direction of a party and country that make primaries so riveting. Trump, if he isn’t careful, could find that he’s not the most interesting political story in the country, and he will surely want to get in on that one.
This is preposterous. Trump is Trump -- the media will never find him "boring." Smith is arguing that Warren could have avoided shining a spotlight on Trump, and thus she's setting a bad example for other potential 2020 Democrats, who have the option of becoming serious presidential contenders without having the wrath of Trump focused on them. Can Smith actually believe that? Of course Trump will try to dominate the coverage of the 2020 Democratic primaries -- and of course the media will aid and abet him.

Near the end of Smith's piece, it seems for a moment as if he almost gets it:
That may leave the question to the media, to us, about whether there are lessons from 2016 to apply here. How much do I and — far more important in the 1980s media time warp we now inhabit — how much do television producers care about Trump’s jibes? Does a mean tweet about Kamala Harris interrupt Harris’s speech, or appear as a chyron, or dominate the conversation? Or are programmers — and their viewers — more interested in Harris’s latest dispute with Beto O’Rourke?

Those aren’t easy editorial questions with simple answers, and Trump retains quite a bit of real estate in all of our minds. But that doesn’t mean he should be the editor-in-chief of every publication, the president of every network.
Yes, maybe the problem is us, Smith says.

And then -- as in those old Saturday Night Live sketches that ended with Steve Martin nearly grasping a truth and then saying, "NAAAAH!" -- Smith writes:
Or it may leave the question to candidates like Warren: How much advantage is to be had in the Democratic primary by fighting with Trump, and talking to Trump, and how much do Democratic voters want in on that conversation?
Warren has been pummeled on this for six years -- but it's her fault when she stands up to the bullying. Not stated is that it also would have been her fault if she'd never taken action to counter this message and it went on to dominate the coverage of her in the primaries -- which it absolutely would have, as the Clinton, Kerry, and Dukakis examples make clear. Trump and his allies would have turned this into the one thing every voter knew about Warren, and the media would have eagerly played along. But go ahead, Ben -- blame Warren.

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