MEHDI HASAN (HOST): Covering Donald Trump reminds me a bit of covering extreme weather. You don't want that tropical storm to make landfall. You don't want it to become a hurricane. But ignoring the hot air or covering it the wrong way or in an inaccurate way, that's the worst thing we in the media can do.
Joining me now, Molly Jong-Fast, special correspondent for Vanity Fair and host of the podcast Fast Politics with Molly Jong-Fast and Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, a journalism watchdog group. Thank you both for joining me.
Molly, let me start with you. We didn't play any sound from Trump's announcement speech on Tuesday night in Florida, mainly because it was just the usual bunch of lies and victimhood. But here's some sound from him that I will play, which is crucial to any conversation about his candidacy. Have a listen.
HASAN: Shouldn't that Molly, his support for his incitement of an armed attack on the Capitol be central to any description of any reporting on his presidential candidacy? We can't just memory-hole that or gloss over it, can we?
MOLLY JONG-FAST (VANITY FAIR): Yeah, no. I mean, the thing with Trump is you have to have a truth sandwich, right? So you have to have the truth on both sides. And then you can have the little Trump quote if you want to, but you have to make sure that it is thoroughly debunked. I would say, like a good rule of thumb is as much time as you spend putting Trump's quotes up, you should spend that same or maybe twice that much fact-checking so that you can really, you know, be clear about what the truth is. Remember, Trump's whole thing is to flood the zone with lies. And so we in the media need to remind everyone of the truth.
HASAN: Angelo, a lot of talk about even the right-wing media – there's a lot of talk that even the Murdoch media is moving on from Trump. We saw a bunch of negative covers in the New York Post last week, as well as critical op-eds in the Wall Street Journal. Wednesday's Post cover referred to him at the bottom as "Florida man makes announcement," a bit of snark there. And then on the other hand, you have Fox last night taking his speech live and hosts and pundits on that network saying this. Have a listen.
HASAN: Rupert Murdoch hasn't abandoned Trump yet, has he, and if he does abandon him, he'll just come crawling back if Trump wins the primary as he did in 2016.
ANGELO CARUSONE (MEDIA MATTERS CHAIRMAN AND PRESIDENT): Yeah, that's spot on. And I would point out one critical piece of evidence, which is that if you go to Fox Nation, there's an entire show, there's an entire channel dedicated to Donald Trump. No other candidate has that, right?
So, you know, this idea, this narrative that somehow the Murdoch empire has turned on Trump is is demonstrably dismissed by all the evidence. That video clip in that montage is just one example. But I mean, they promote the guy. In fact, they give people subscriptions to Fox Nation for watching the Trump rally – they actually promote it on Fox News and encourage you to go to Fox Nation and sign up to watch the rally. They don't promote any other candidates' rally, and they certainly have not. I mean, so that to me is the biggest example.
And I think it speaks to a larger concern that I have with the media coverage, which is that there's too much schadenfreude. There's too many people who always write the epithets. And that conventional wisdom approach is to me, the threat. It's the trope of the person in the horror movie who thinks the villain is dead or the monster is dead and then comes back and gets you; that schadenfreude doesn't help anybody and are seeing that play out right now with this idea that somehow the right-wing media has turned on Trump because a few nobodies are criticizing him.
HASAN: Right. It's also their desire to dunk that we have in a social media age. So he says or does something stupid and we're like, oh, he can't win anything and I'm as guilty as anyone else. But the reality is, you can be a clown and you can be dangerous at the same time. I think Donald Trump has proved that, as have some other billionaires.
Molly, we can't have any discussion about the Republican Party's bizarre relationship with Trump without mentioning the name Lindsey Graham, the man who went from bashing Trump in 2016 to sucking up to him during his presidency to saying he was done with Trump on the night of 1/6 to sucking up to him again ever since. Here he is in the wake of Trump's announcement, and I quote him on Twitter: "If President Trump continues this tone and delivers this message on a consistent basis, he will be hard to beat."
Molly – if he continues this tone, if he continues the tone; in which world does Trump ever continue any tone?
JONG-FAST: Well, and also the tone was – I mean, I actually watched this speech and it was Teleprompter Trump. He was bored. He was boring. People tried to leave Mar-a-Lago.
JONG-FAST: I mean, it was like he doesn't – the reason why he doesn't stick to the tone is because he likes to say crazy stuff. And the reason that he gets this media coverage is because he does say crazy stuff. So what I think is interesting is now he's trying to pretend that he's a normal politician, which, again, we in the media need to remind people that he's not a normal politician and remind them what his administration looked like, which was quite scary. And by the way, which is, as we've seen from these midterms, something the American people do not want. Right. They don't want little Trumps. They don't want big Trump. And it's the third election where Trump has made the Republican Party really underperform.
HASAN: To be fair, though, the people of Florida said they wanted mini-Trump. The question is, can the Floridian mini-Trump make it nationwide? Which is the big unanswered question. And it's not just people on Fox or in Florida saying Trump sounds presidential. We've had many liberals, many mainstream journalists say the same over the years. Let's have a listen to the originator of that ridiculous quote, Van Jones on CNN in 2017 after a Trump speech to Congress.
HASAN: And you know, we can laugh in hindsight, but why has the media always been so low for Trump? Even among many liberal pundits, he reads off a teleprompter and he's presidential again. As Molly pointed out, he manages to get through a teleprompter and people are saying his timing is change. I mean, my daughter, you know, could read out from her homework to me – doesn't mean she's ready to be president of the United States. I don't get why it is that so many people are so generous to this man.
CARUSONE: Because I think that – because he was a creature of the media, not necessarily political media, but the media itself, there was this sense that it was just a branding exercise the way like a WWE wrestler has, like kayfabe; it's like you're not actually The Undertaker, you're just a wrestler. You're not actually a villain. You know, it's part of the act, and that there's something reasonable underneath it.
And I really do think a big piece of that was a combination of the fact that he was a media creature and so they were giving credit to the brand.
And I think the other part of it is that there is a sort of reflex and a muscle memory within the news media as a whole to backslide and to when they can sort of acknowledge or inoculate themselves against right-wing criticism that they somehow have a liberal bias, they take any chance they get. And I think when you combine those two things, it partly helps explain how we got really horrible Trump coverage last cycle and how it is very likely to happen now because – your point – the bar is so low.
HASAN: You preempted my next question to you, Angelo, which was going to be, do you think anything's changed this time around? You guys monitor this stuff. I mentioned in my introduction, you know, you saw a good tweet from NPR. You saw a good headline from The Washington Post, but then you feel awful stuff from C-SPAN, of all people.
CARUSONE: Yeah, I think that there's there has been some better work in the editorial newsrooms as a whole. There's a little bit more antibodies in the system for this kind of stuff. So I definitely think that some of the topline narratives are better. But one thing that hasn't changed is that there's still not really new thinking about where Trump is building power. You know Trump and now the Republican Party builds power on what used to be considered the fringes. And a lot of reporters are so, you know, programmed to dismiss the fringes. But when you're building power there, it actually has – you have to think about it and report it differently. So, yeah, there's definitely some editorial differences, but that layer beneath it is still a little bit lacking.
HASAN: And Molly, last question to you. Joe Biden chose not to say anything in response to the Trump announcement. A lot of Dems, a lot of liberals are saying that's the right response. Don't amplify Trump, don't give him attention. I fear that strategy doesn't work anymore if it ever did. Shouldn't Democrats be going out of their way to define Trump right now? Remind everyone of what he did – the insurrection, the corruption, the stealing of classified documents that we've already memory-holed; make the case right now for why he's unfit for office, rather than allowing time to be the great healer and let the notoriously amnesiac American public basically forget all of the Trump scandals and alleged crimes.
JONG-FAST: Yeah, I definitely think you're right. We definitely need Democrats to say like, this is not what you want. Remember what he did when he was in office? Remember what he did with COVID. Remember what he did with the protesters? I mean, there's just you know, the American people don't like it, right? They don't like autocrats; like we have now seen this, which is so exciting and thrilling to me as they don't like it.
So they need to be reminded of that. I'm not sure that Biden needs to do it because he is the president of the United States. And I think but I do think Democratic senators, the vice president, the rest of us need to remind the American people what Trumpism looks like. I actually think for Biden to dismiss him is sort of I don't know. I think it will make Trump crazy, which I actually think is not a bad thing. I am also looking forward to seeing Trump get involved in this Georgia runoff because I think he's going to hurt Republicans there.