Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT
The New York Times sure picked a strange moment to start writing up tickets for allegedly rude political behavior this year. And the paper picked an odd target when it recently suggested that by so boisterously and passionately pushing back against President Donald Trump’s radical White House agenda, Democrats and liberals were being too mean, that they were offending voters who support the president.
According to the Times, “moderate conservatives” and “seemingly persuadable conservatives” (whoever they are) are turned off by Trump’s critics.
The message apparently being, if liberals and Democrats would be nicer in their critiques of Trump, if they could dial back the “righteous indignation” while the president tries to ban travelers from targeted nations from entering America, sets out to deport millions of people living here, and declares the news media to be the “enemy” of the people, they’d be more successful in slowing Trump’s agenda.
If the left could drop the “moral smugness” and “name-calling,” as one Times reporter characterized the traits on Twitter, it could win over more converts.
The Times, however, made no suggestion that Trump supporters change their ways. In fact, the newspaper quoted one fan insisting that Democrats are "scarier to me than these Islamic terrorists. I feel absolutely disgusted with them and their antics.”
So in a piece chastising Democrats for being too mean, the Times quoted a Trump supporter who equated Democrats with Islamic terrorists. And yes, that same piece questioning the tone of Democratic activists quoted zero Democratic activists.
So much for balance.
By the way, here are a couple of images that could have provided context for a story about Trump supporters supposedly having their feelings hurt in the current political climate:
— Kevin M. Kruse (@KevinMKruse) February 19, 2017
Ever since Election Day, when lots of news executives decided they hadn’t paid enough attention to Trump supporters and had therefore “missed” his upset victory, The New York Times has stood out for its desire to relentlessly focus on Trump’s most ardent supporters. Showering them with constant attention, the daily has gone out of its way to give these supporters a platform to express their (mostly) unyielding support for the most unpopular new president in American history.
Usually traveling to small, mostly-white towns inside pro-Trump states (Niles, MI; Monticello, IA; Covington, LA; et cetera), the Times again and again types up hosannas from Trump fans and presents their praise and vociferous defense of the president as news.
The whole genre reads like a weird brand of Trump damage control, courtesy of The New York Times.
Trump’s many stumbles during the transition? His supporters don’t care. His stumbles during his first week in office? His supporters don’t care. The news that his victory was possibly aided by Russian hacking? His supporters don’t care. American cities erupt in anti-Trump protests? His supporters don’t care. Trump critics denounce his travel ban as unlawful? His supporters don’t care.
That’s not all. The Times has also published a long profile on women who voted for Trump (explaining their support “in their own words”), a piece on Trump fans who traveled to the inauguration, and an adoring profile of a Trump fan who lied about Hillary Clinton during the campaign and profited from his fake news business. (The Times was especially enamored with what it called a fake news “masterpiece” about how the Clinton campaign stocked an Ohio warehouse with fraudulent votes.)
There’s no question that the White House’s cornucopia of missteps and botched initiatives has provided journalists with plenty to report on. That, in turn, generates negative press coverage in places like the Times, which has certainly provided critical reporting and analysis regarding the new administration.
By contrast, the Trump voter beat inside the newsroom seems to provide a respite from all of that bad-news-for-Trump coverage. These soft profiles seem to be a way for the supposedly liberal and “biased” Times to signal to conservatives that it’s willing to present their best side too.
For the record, it’s perfectly appropriate for journalists to regularly take the temperature from all corners of the American political spectrum, and that certainly includes Trump supporters.
And obviously, the Times isn’t the only news outlet that’s been spotlighting Trump supporters since the elections. Lots of journalists have showered attention on them in hopes of providing insight into Trump’s unexpected victory and what it means moving forward.
But the Times does seem to be singular in its pursuit, having long ago sprinted past the role of providing insight into Trump supporters and since settled into the task of coddling them and giving them a safe space to detail their admiration of a relentless and purposeful liar.
So the question persists: What exactly is the purpose of this exercise where the Times sends reporters to states that voted for Trump to interview voters who still really like Trump?
Note that in the process of getting constant updates from Trump fans, the Times often lets them push lots of unfounded allegations and wild conspiratorial claims with little or no pushback. That’s bad journalism, as one Toronto Star reporter recently noted on Twitter.
Trump voter in Ohio: “I’m tired of [immigrants] being here illegally and cutthroating the rest of us.”
That claim is false.
Trump voter in Iowa: “My view is [Obama] purposely got into the presidency so he could ruin America.”
That claim is absurd.
Trump voter in Georgia: “But there are allegations about killing people who get in [Hillary Clinton’s] way — Vince Foster, people like that.”
That claim is also just completely divorced from reality.
Here’s what’s especially odd about the Times’ feel-good coverage of Trump supporters: Back in August, the newspaper posted an unvarnished compilation video of Trump supporters at his campaign rallies as they wallowed in racist, sexist and anti-Muslim rhetoric. (“Fuck those dirty beaners.” Fuck political correctness.” “Fuck you, Hillary.” “Kill her!”)
In that piece, the Times held up an unfiltered lens and revealed Trump supporters in their own words, and it wasn’t pretty. Today, though, that unpleasantness has been politely scrubbed from view. In its chronic coverage of Trump devotees since the election, the paper makes little mention of the dark cultural forces that may be propelling the president’s biggest fans. Instead, they’re simply presented as hardworking Americans in search of a new voice in Washington, D.C. (“I truly believe he cares about our country and wants to help everyone.”)
Add it up and it’s just wave after wave of interviews with worshipful Trump voters, while the subject of their adultation rewrites all the record books by becoming the least popular new president in modern American history.
It’s a very weird disconnect the Times is pushing.