Part 4—While skipping large matters of substance: On Tuesday night, the PBS NewsHour was “back on the pork chops again.” Judy Woodruff closed the show with some fun from the Iowa fair:
WOODRUFF (8/18/15): Finally tonight, our “NewsHour Shares” of the day. Something that caught our eye which might be of interest to you too.No harm was done by this minor piffle at the end of Tuesday’s show, except to Iowa livestock. But it made us think of a slightly peculiar remark by Woodruff—a remark she made during Monday night’s trip to the fair.
Our senior politics producer, Bob Kovach, has been in Iowa to cover the presidential candidates. But he noticed a much more popular item at the Iowa State Fair—the state’s iconic pork chop.
He sent us this video postcard of the chefs behind the grill and the people who line up to partake.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We’re cooking the Iowa Chop here. We rack up about 45 or 50 on each rack, and can turn them all at one time.
The Iowa Chop is what we serve the most of, a little over 12,000 Iowa Chops during the fair probably. And grab it by the bone, just like you do the stick, and eat it right off the bone. No sauce on these. These are great without the sauce.
When we get them all there, we will pull them off, and they go into warming ovens, where we hold them before they go on in the serving line.
It’s gas-fired. There’s four different burners in there to keep the heat spread. And that always becomes a challenge of an evening is when do you stop cooking and to make sure you have enough to make 9 o’clock and—which is time that we close, but you not have a bunch left over at that point in time.
UNIDENTIFED MAN: This is wonderful! This Iowa Chop, that’s what it’s really all about. This is why I come to the fair. There—this, and the pork chop on a stick!
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, it’s one of the greatest things at the fair, actually! I just sink my teeth into a mouthwatering pork chop that was just so beautiful. Oh, yes! Just having an Iowa pork chop is just one of the greatest things when you come to the fair. It’s a good meal to eat.
WOODRUFF: A culinary delight.
Uh-oh! Over the weekend, Candidate Trump had released a major policy plan concerning immigration. The multifaceted plan contains a set of major proposals, some of which seem to contradict the candidate’s public statements.
(The plan calls for “mandatory return of all criminal aliens.” In public, Trump has been calling for the deportation of everyone who is in the country illegally.)
At any rate, Candidate Trump had issued a set of major policy proposals. On Monday evening, we were struck by the way the NewsHour reacted.
In its opening segment, Gwen Ifill was at the state fair, talking about butter and fun and, of course, those Iowa pork chops. Back in Washington, Woodruff started her panel discussion like this:
WOODRUFF (8/17/15): Well, as candidates walk the midway in Iowa—and we just watched it—we know they also are making some national moves.Maybe we were picking nits. But if Trump had released a policy plan, why was this a perfect time for Politics Monday?
Among them, Donald Trump released his first national policy paper yesterday, on immigration. It sounds like a perfect time for Politics Monday.
Joining us this week are Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and reporter Tamara Keith of NPR.
So, go Gwen!
WALTER: Yes. So fun!
Maybe we were picking nits! But Woodruff proceeded to discuss the possibility that Candidates Sanders and Trump were enjoying a political “summer romance.” After that bit of good solid fun, she offered a rather slender account of Trump’s policy proposals:
WOODRUFF: Well, one thing [Trump] is doing clearly to get himself taken more seriously is, he started to release a policy paper. He put one out over the weekend, yesterday on Meet the Press, on immigration. And let’s look at what the basic elements of it are:Entertainingly, Woodruff seemed to offer a (newly) stock joke about Trump’s use of the word “huge.” (Using Nexis, we find no record of Trump saying “huge wall,” although he may have done so.)
He would force Mexicans to pay for a wall, a big—he says a huge wall at the border. There would be no more automatic birthright citizenship. There’s a big controversy about that, because there is language to that in the Constitution. And finally, he would step up the deportation of all undocumented residents, adults and children.
So, Tamara, you know, what is this—this is a pretty, this is the most conservative position, we think, for all the Republicans, 17 Republicans running. What does it mean? Is this—is it smart for him politically, and what does it mean for the other candidates he’s running against?
Woodruff then offered a slender account of the Trump proposals. She said his plan would affect birthright citizenship, without explaining what that is. She said he would “step up the deportation of all undocumented residents, adults and children.”
Woodruff then turned to the pundit Keith and asked if these proposals were “smart for him politically.” There was no attempt to report or analyze the substance of Trump's proposals.
The pundits went straight to the politics of the plan. On PBS, it was basically substance be damned!
The following night, we were served those Iowa pork chops again. By now, three nights have passed this week, and the NewsHour has made no attempt to discuss the substance of Trump’s proposals, some of which were missing from Woodruff’s summary, which was less than huge.
Will the NewsHour ever discuss the substance of Trump’s immigration proposals? Presumably, the famous program maybe possibly certainly will!
How searching will those discussions be? We can’t tell you that. But all across the mainstream press, a lot of pretending is involved in the campaign coverage of substantive policy matters. Consider an amusing moment from last week’s Politics Monday—the Politics Monday segment of Monday, August 10.
On this occasion, it fell to Ifill to say that it “sounds like a perfect time for Politics Monday.” This time, guest pundit Keith seemed to offer the stock joke about Candidate Trump saying “huge.”
So far, things were going smoothly. But uh-oh! As Keith continued, she gave voice to a somewhat amusing lament:
IFILL (8/10/17): Tamara, you were in New Hampshire with Hillary, covering Hillary Clinton today. Tell us a little bit about this whole idea, this broad idea of women’s issues...Using Nexis, we find no sign that Trump actually said that he was “huge on women’s issues.” These days, though, every top pundit knows how to work in the stock jokes.
KEITH: ...Donald Trump, over the weekend, said that he’s huge on women’s issues. It’s not entirely clear what that means. Trump, before he was pro-life, was pro-choice. And of course, that’s one of many issues where there are lots of substantive questions that could be asked of a candidate, but, typically, he spends a lot of time feuding instead.
IFILL: Has the Clinton campaign decided this is an opportunity for them?
KEITH: Oh, absolutely. Hillary Clinton was having a lot of fun in that media availability today, though—and you also got the sense that she would have been perfectly happy if someone, anyone, had asked her a detailed policy question about her college affordability plan, which is what she was there for.
That said, alas! According to Keith, Candidate Clinton would have been happy if someone had asked her about her college affordability plan that day. Incomparably, we couldn’t help noting—Ifill proceeded to ask no questions about that plan as the discussion continued.
In the eight programs since that date, the PBS NewsHour hasn’t discussed that proposal by Clinton. We’ve enjoyed two reports about Iowa’s pork chops, none on Clinton’s proposal.
At some point, Clinton’s proposal may get discussed on the NewsHour. Ditto for Trump’s immigration proposals.
That said, should the NewsHour possibly cut some pork from its bloated diet of political speculation and good solid fun? Should its stalwarts possibly do a bit less joking?
Those are matters of judgment. But the press corps does a lot of pretending when it comes to discussions of matters of substance. That seems to be especially true when it comes to matters of substance which might affect corporate elites and the people who inhabit them.
Tomorrow, we’ll return to Candidate Trump’s immigration proposals as a way to consider that type of pretending. We’ll also lament an important discussion the New York Times couldn’t ignite.
Tomorrow: What the Sam Hill is e-verify? Also, mass incarceration