It feels like a watershed moment: Could short-term sanity prevail?
In the morning's Washington Post, the editors ask that the email lunacy stop. They say the coverage is "out of control." For Kevin Drum's treatment, click here.
We'd call that short-term sanity. To us, the featured editorial in the New York Times suggests the possibility of something larger.
That said, let's start with Paul Krugman's column. In his column, Krugman batters Matt Lauer by name.
Already, we were pleased by that highly unusual conduct. Then we read the editorial, which strikes us as a watershed event. This seems like something very new. It's decades overdue:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (9/9/16): There was not much of a contest in Wednesday night’s forum with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Mrs. Clinton answered the questions of the moderator, Matt Lauer, in coherent sentences, often with specific details. Mr. Trump alternated between rambling statements and grandiose boasts when he wasn’t lying.To us, that seems remarkable. As part of basic mainstream press culture, it has been extremely rare to see big mainstream players or orgs criticize big mainstream stars at all, let alone in so unvarnished a fashion. This code of silence has enabled the mainstream press corps' disastrous conduct of the past twenty-plus years.
Mr. Lauer largely neglected to ask penetrating questions, call out falsehoods or insist on answers when it was obvious that Mr. Trump’s responses had drifted off.
If the moderators of the coming debates do not figure out a better way to get the candidates to speak accurately about their records and policies— especially Mr. Trump, who seems to feel he can skate by unchallenged with his own version of reality while Mrs. Clinton is grilled and entangled in the fine points of domestic and foreign policy—then they will have done the country a grave disservice.
Mr. Lauer seemed most energized interrogating Mrs. Clinton about her use of a personal email server while secretary of state. Focusing on it meant that other critical issues—like America’s role in Afghanistan and its ties with China—went unaddressed. He was harder on Mrs. Clinton than on Mr. Trump, reflecting a tendency among some journalists to let Mr. Trump’s deceptions go unchallenged. That certainly was the case when he let Mr. Trump attack Mrs. Clinton for voting for the Iraq war and going into Libya when Mr. Trump had supported those actions.
There will be many issues to explore at the three presidential debates. For the sake of the nation, the moderators need to be fully prepared to challenge the candidates, so voters can have a clear picture of how they will lead.
We were amazed to see the editors criticize Lauer so. We thought of a variant on something we said yesterday:
We wondered if the potential disaster of a President Trump may be leading mainstream figures to abandon their destructive old loyalty codes. We wondered if the fear of Trump could start to break the code of silence which has long been observed by the upper-end mainstream celebrity press.
Will mainstream journalists start to discuss the ways of the mainstream press corps? In the end, Krugman's column, and a piece by Jonathan Chait, suggest that the answer may be no.
By the end of his column, Krugman is wondering why Lauer didn't challenge some of Candidate Trump's "blatant, in-your-face lies" at Wednesday night's forum. After musing about that failure, he wonders why Candidate Clinton seems to face such an obvious double standard from the mainstream press.
Why is Trump allowed to lie, while Clinton gets nitpicked at every turn? This is the way the column ends. Is this really the best he can do?
KRUGMAN (9/9/16): There’s also a deep diffidence about pointing out uncomfortable truths. Back in 2000, when I was first writing this column, I was discouraged from using the word “lie” about George W. Bush’s dishonest policy claims. As I recall, I was told that it was inappropriate to be that blunt about the candidate of one of our two major political parties. And something similar may be going on even now, with few people in the media willing to accept the reality that the G.O.P. has nominated someone whose lies are so blatant and frequent that they amount to sociopathy.In that passage, Krugman tries to explain the "asymmetry," the double standard. Why do news orgs go relatively easy on Trump's crazy lies, yet "have no problem harassing Mrs. Clinton endlessly over minor misstatements and exaggerations?"
Even that observation, however, doesn’t explain the asymmetry, because some of the same media organizations that apparently find it impossible to point out Mr. Trump’s raw, consequential lies have no problem harassing Mrs. Clinton endlessly over minor misstatements and exaggerations, or sometimes over actions that were perfectly innocent. Is it sexism? I really don’t know, but it’s shocking to watch.
And meanwhile, if the question is whether Mr. Trump can really get away with his big liar routine, the evidence from Wednesday night suggests a disheartening answer: Unless something changes, yes he can.
Krugman says it may be sexism. Is that really the best he can do?
Surely, he's dissembling. Just four days ago, Krugman noted that Candidate Gore was inaccurately portrayed as dishonest and as a liar, in much the way Candidate Clinton is now being portrayed.
Four days ago, Krugman specifically said that! Four days later, he can't bring himself to say what is blatantly obvious:
This has been the mainstream press corps' controlling narrative about Clinton, Clinton and Gore ever since the 1990s! Surely Krugman understands that fact. It seems he just doesn't want to say it.
In one way, we can't blame him. It's hard to tell a bunch of readers that a destructive syndrome has been in effect for twenty years and they've never heard a word about it. It's very, very late in the game for career liberals to start telling the truth about the rest of the press corps.
That said, the mainstream press corps "had no problem harassing [Candidate Gore] endlessly over minor misstatements and exaggerations, or sometimes over actions that were perfectly innocent." They did that for twenty months during Campaign 2000, even while Krugman was told not to challenge Candidate Bush's misstatements too harshly.
Krugman described this four days ago. Today, he runs off and hides.
This piece by Chait is quite similar. The headline asks an important question: "Hillary Clinton Is a Flawed But Normal Politician. Why Can’t America See That?"
Surely, Chait understands an obvious part of the answer. His colleagues in the mainstream press corps started in on not yet-Candidate Clinton in the summer of 2014. (College speaking fees! Please blur all distinctions!) For the past two years, they've ginned up an endless series of "character problems." (The scary uranium deal!) Everyone was able to see how corrupt the Clintons are. (With his dying words, the late Beau Biden complained about Candidate Clinton's values. He used his last few nouns!) In the end, they settled on the email matter as their winning play. (No fair tattling on Powell, at least until the Dems release the whole email in question!)
In Krugman's terms, Chait's mainstream colleagues have "had no problem harassing Mrs. Clinton endlessly over minor misstatements and exaggerations, or sometimes over actions that were perfectly innocent." This pattern continued right through Lauer's appalling performance Wednesday night. More on that tomorrow.
Surely, Chait understands that this is a decades-old play, a play that predated this White House campaign, a play that was directed at Bill Clinton and Al Gore before it reached Candidate Clinton. But Chait can't seem to bring himself to make this obvious statement. He turns to sexism as his answer too, then offer a few muffle-mouthed mumblings about the way the press corps works. He's so professorial at that point, it almost sounds like Kathleen Hall Jamieson wrote that part of his post.
("A final cause is the inability of journalists to subject Clinton to appropriate scrutiny while still placing her failings in the appropriate context!" That's the way the language sounds when someone's avoiding the truth.)
Telling the truth very slowly is hard. When you've hidden the truth for so long, it's hard to make the transition.
Tomorrow: Four more questions from Lauer