Trump and the Missing Eight Words

S.V. Date has a must-read article about the role most news outlets have played in the normalization of Trump’s auto-golpe (self-coup; boldface mine):

Donald Trump is the only president who used the threat of violence and then actual violence in an attempt to remain in power — the very definition of a coup. It was the singular unique act of his tenure, truly historic. In 232 years of elections, no other president had done anything remotely close to what Trump did.

Failing to mention Jan. 6 in a story about Trump is akin to writing about Neil Armstrong without mentioning the moon landing or about Jeffrey Dahmer without bringing up cannibalism.

Yet, somehow, this key bit of context almost never makes it into news coverage of Trump’s 2024 campaign. Instead, he is treated like any other candidate — with the focus on things like how he will fend off Ron DeSantis, what nickname he’ll come up with for Nikki Haley, and what strategy he’ll use to win back suburban women voters. We’re already seeing the puff profiles about his campaign staff that make those stories possible.

It all raises an intriguing question. What level of depravity would Trump have to engage in before news outlets regularly mentioned it in coverage? Serial killing? Child molestation? Both? Or would we, even then, ignore that conduct to get an inner circle aide to return a phone call?

…How we got to a point where a man who attempted an actual coup is treated like any other candidate for office cannot really be fathomed without an understanding of how political journalism has come to be practiced…

…Stop for a moment and think: What if Donald Trump had succeeded that day? What if, instead of Mike Pence, the vice president had been someone with the character of Mark Meadows or Scott Perry and they’d gone along with Trump’s demands?

What should we have called Trump, had he managed to remain in office despite losing the election by 7 million votes? How should we have described the government we would have had at that point? Because it sure as hell would not have been a democracy anymore…

While many outlets did use it during the Jan. 6 hearings last summer, with the evidence of Trump’s behavior getting plenty of airtime, you almost never see it now that Trump is actively seeking the White House again.

It would be one thing, perhaps, if Trump had apologized for his actions leading up to that day, for all the lying he had done about the election and riling up his followers to the point where they were beating police officers with flagpoles bearing the United States ensign.

But he hasn’t…

But we absolutely should not make that request, or accept an invite, with even the hint of an implicit agreement to soft-pedal or, worse still, to not mention Trump’s post-election words and deeds. You would never have agreed to interview Charles Manson on the condition that you not mention his murders. Well, what Charles Manson and his groupies did to Sharon Tate and her friends is what Donald Trump tried to do to our democracy.

In an age when most journalism is produced and consumed online, with no physical “column inch” limit like with print, there is simply zero excuse not to include just a sentence or two of context about Trump’s Jan. 6 conduct in every news account about him. The relative clause “who attempted a coup to remain in power” adds precisely eight words to a story.

Date is absolutely right: the phrase “who attempted a coup to remain in power” should be in every story about Trump. News organizations should do this, but we know they won’t (even if we harangue them on the Twitterz!).

Time for a blogger ethics panel, I guess.

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2 Responses to Trump and the Missing Eight Words

  1. Ten Bears says:

    It’s the notoriety: “Trump is the only president who…” He doesn’t care how he goes down in history, as long as he goes down as the only president who …

  2. Pingback: In Case You Missed It… | Mike the Mad Biologist

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