The New York Post
September 28, 2016
Back when I was a pup in the newspaper business, legendary reporter Peter Kihss gave me lifetime advice about covering politicians. Remember, he said, there are no such things as stupid questions, only stupid answers.
Which brings us to Lester Holt and the accusations that the moderator tipped Monday’s debate in favor of Hillary Clinton. Holt’s bias was obvious, but the impact was not inevitable. It mattered largely because, shockingly, Donald Trump was shocked that Holt was in the tank for Clinton.
How could Trump not see that coming? And if he did, why wasn’t he better prepared?
Holt never pressed Clinton with any substantive follow-ups, while Trump repeatedly was asked to defend or explain what he had just said or said in the past.
Holt insisted repeatedly Trump had supported the Iraq War, despite the candidate’s denials, and asked pointed questions about his taxes and the Obama birther issue. Yet Clinton got only one obligatory question on the e-mail scandal, and not a single one about the Clinton Foundation, her Wall Street speaking fees or her health — all of which have figured far more prominently in the campaign than Iraq or the birther issue.
It was outrageous — but no surprise. After all, Holt is part of the Big Media establishment that has uniformly protected President Obama and broken all its own standards to trash Trump and elect Clinton.
Holt even got a warning shot when his NBC colleague, Matt Lauer, was thrashed by the liberal media amid accusations that he was too tough on Clinton and too soft on Trump at an earlier forum.
A second warning shot came just last weekend, when Clinton’s Praetorian Guard carried out a synchronized assault against Trump. The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico and the Los Angeles Times all carried very similar stories accusing Trump of repeated lies.
To call that a coincidence would be a Clintonian lie. Those articles matched the talking points of her campaign, which also demanded that Holt “fact-check” Trump, which, of course, he did, while leaving her un-checked.
In short, the debate fix was broadcast on the front pages well in advance, yet Trump wasn’t ready for it. Although he didn’t make fatal mistakes and survived Clinton’s best punches, his meandering digressions, along with his failure to demand the answers from Clinton that Holt didn’t, cost him precious time and opportunity. As such, they fall into Peter Kihss’ category of “stupid answers.”
But here’s the other side of the story: Trump won’t suffer much voter pain, certainly not enough to put victory out of reach. His secret weapon is that his core supporters, including many independents, distrust the media nearly as much as they distrust Clinton.
Consider that, while most media professionals said Clinton won the debate, most online polls of viewers had Trump winning.
The split verdict reflects a theme that goes back to the earliest GOP primary debates. Candidates who blasted media moderators for being prejudiced against Republicans got rousing ovations.
The anger has grown more pronounced since Trump, the ultimate outsider, crashed the party to win the nomination. With media bias blatant on a daily basis, it is far more than a sideshow.
My in-box routinely contains letters from readers such as Gayla Chandler, who wrote, “So my vote for Trump is partially FOR Trump, but it is equally against both Hillary and media manipulation.”
Reader David Paler articulated the same sentiment in a broader context, writing, “It occurred to me that this election might actually be a referendum on the media and its role in today’s world events.”
If they are right, it’s possible that anti-media sentiment could help decide the election. The nationwide numbers suggest the possibility.
A recent Gallup survey found a new low in public trust of the media, with only 32 percent of Americans saying they have a great deal or some trust in newspapers, TV and radio “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly.” Trust fell eight points in one year alone and is only 14 percent among Republicans.
In a change election where both candidates have historically high negative ratings, many voters could make their choice for secondary reasons.
Voting against the other candidate is the most likely option, while voting against the media as a proxy for voting against the establishment is emerging as another.
In that case, the news media could be more than part of the story. They could be the story.
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