Political journalist for the New York Times, Jim Rutenberg, asks a series of questions, that expose the media’s ‘get Trump’ campaign. This is how they plan to frame him. What do you think about it?
Because if you believe all of those things, you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer, and approach it in a way you’ve never approached anything in your career. If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, nonopinion journalist I’ve ever known, and by normal standards, untenable.
But the question that everyone is grappling with is: Do normal standards apply? And if they don’t, what should take their place?
Covering Mr. Trump as an abnormal and potentially dangerous candidate is more than just a shock to the journalistic system. It threatens to throw the advantage to his news conference-averse opponent, Hillary Clinton, who should draw plenty more tough-minded coverage herself. She proved that again last week with her assertion on Fox News Sunday that James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had declared her to be truthful in her answers about her decision to use a private email server for official State Department business — a grossly misleading interpretation of an F.B.I. report that pointed up various falsehoods in her public explanations.
And, most broadly, it upsets balance, that idealistic form of journalism with a capital “J” we’ve been trained to always strive for.
But let’s face it: Balance has been on vacation since Mr. Trump stepped onto his golden Trump Tower escalator last year to announce his candidacy. For the primaries and caucuses, the imbalance played to his advantage, captured by the killer statistic of the season: His nearly $2 billion in free media was more than six times as much as that of his closest Republican rival.
Now that he is the Republican nominee for president, the imbalance is cutting against him. Journalists and commentators are analyzing his policy pronouncements and temperament with an eye toward what it would all look like in the Oval Office — something so many of them viewed as an impossibility for so long.
You can see it from the minute the television news day starts, on the set of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC. A few months ago media writers were describing a too-cozy relationship between Mr. Trump and the show’s hosts, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.
Yet there was Mr. Scarborough on Wednesday asking the former Central Intelligence Agency director Michael V. Hayden whether there were safeguards in place to ensure that if Mr. Trump “gets angry, he can’t launch a nuclear weapon,” given the perception that he might not be “the most stable guy.”
Then Mr. Scarborough shared an alarming conversation he said he had with a “foreign policy expert” who had given Mr. Trump a national security briefing. “Three times he asked about the use of nuclear weapons,” Mr. Scarborough said, describing one of the questions as “If we have them, why can’t we use them?”
Speaking with me later, Mr. Scarborough, a Republican, said he had not contemplated sharing the anecdote with the audience until just before he did.
“When that discussion came up, I really didn’t have a choice,” Mr. Scarborough said. “That was something I thought Americans needed to know.”
Mr. Trump has denied Mr. Scarborough’s account. (He told The New York Times in March he would use nuclear weapons as “an absolutely last step.” But when the MSNBC host Chris Matthews challenged him for raising the possibility he would use them, Mr. Trump asked, “Then why are we making them?”)
Mr. Scarborough, a frequent critic of liberal media bias, said he was concerned that Mr. Trump was becoming increasingly erratic, and asked rhetorically, “How balanced do you have to be when one side is just irrational?”
Mr. Scarborough is on the opinion side of the news business. It’s much dodgier for conventional news reporters to treat this year’s political debate as one between “normal” and “abnormal,” as the Vox editor in chief Ezra Klein put it recently.
It may not always seem fair to Mr. Trump or his supporters. But journalism shouldn’t measure itself against any one campaign’s definition of fairness. It is journalism’s job to be true to the readers and viewers, and true to the facts, in a way that will stand up to history’s judgment. To do anything less would be untenable.