Tuesday, May 21, 2019


Margaret Sullivan, the former public editor of The New York Times who's now a media analyst at The Washington Post, wrote this last week:
Trump won’t stop coining nasty nicknames for his foes — but the media must stop amplifying them.

... Journalists may not be able to ignore these nicknames altogether, but they should stop doing Trump’s dirty work for him: amplifying their power through prominent placement and frequent, unquestioning repetition.

... Cover them as part of a story? Examine and analyze them? Sure.

But don’t constantly repeat them, don’t treat them as “all in good fun.”

And don’t give them prominence without context.
Sullivan's criticism is limited to the media's coverage of Trump's schoolyard-bully nicknames. But what about his other forms of trash talk? Shouldn't the press think twice about amplifying those?

And while Sullivan believes it's fine to cover Trump's nicknames if your aim is to "analyze them," what if you're "analyzing" Trump's insult comedy and the conclusion you reach is "Trump is really awesome at this"? That's what happened yesterday in the Post, in a piece by Ashley Parker and Robert Costa:
The narrator in chief: Trump opines on the 2020 Democrats — and so much more

President Trump assessed the 2020 Democratic primary field in the unvarnished style of a cable news pundit — or as a brash sports radio host belittling the opposing team’s roster.

He dismissed former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke as “made to fall like a rock,” asking: “What the hell happened?”

He reduced Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to an offensive nickname and a single sentence: “Pocahontas, I think, is probably out.”

And he opined on the relative merits of former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): “Bernie’s crazy, but Bernie’s got a lot more energy than Biden, so you never know.”

... Trump’s handicapping of the Democratic presidential race is one part of his much broader role as the country’s de facto narrator in chief — inserting himself into nearly every major cultural moment or controversy, and putting his own commentary and jeers at the center of the conversation.

... Trump’s desire to capture the nation’s collective attention can make him seem inescapable — a cascade of alerts on a phone, the all-caps headline on cable news, and the unavoidable presence at work and family gatherings alike. Voters may love him, they may hate him, they may even mute him — but he never disappears.

... Nonstop, bite-size news cycles, along with social media platforms like Twitter, allow Trump to dominate the nation’s discourse in a way that his predecessors could not.
And at Sullivan's old paper, there was Peter Baker, writing this:
... President Trump has grown increasingly willing in recent months to say in public what most of his predecessors tried to keep behind closed doors.

His is the profanity presidency, full of four-letter denunciations of his enemies and earthy dismissals of allegations lodged against him. At rallies and in interviews, on Twitter and in formal speeches, he relishes the bad-boy language of a shock jock, just one more way of gleefully provoking the political establishment bothered by his norm-shattering ways.
This story, from Glenn Thrush of the Times, at least puts Trump's trash talk in the context of a partywide campaign of ostracism:
President Trump attacked Representative Justin Amash as a “total lightweight” and “loser” on Sunday, a day after the Michigan Republican said Mr. Trump’s behavior as president had reached the “threshold for impeachment.”

The president’s attacks reinforced Mr. Amash’s isolation within his party, as even the Republican lawmakers who might be most sympathetic to his position avoided stepping forward to join him....

“Never a fan of @justinamash, a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy,” Mr. Trump wrote in a midmorning Twitter riff that included, among other things, criticism of the “Fake News Sunday Political Shows” and boasts about his judicial appointments and health care policies.

“Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands!” he added.
We're told about a primary challenge to Amash and a statement of denunciation from Ronna Romney McDaniel, head of the Republican National Committee. We're also told that Ronna's uncle Mitt has distanced himself from Amash's talk of impeachment, and that no other congressional Republican has endorsed Amash's comments.

But in that case, why is the headline "Trump Calls Representative Justin Amash a ‘Loser’ Over Impeachment Talk"? Amash is being shunned by most of the Republican Party -- but the press regards Trump's insults as uniquely powerful, so they're the focus.

Sullivan wrote about media coverage of Trump's nicknames. Unfortunately, the problem is much bigger than that -- and it's not getting better.

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