Impervious no more: How the media makes and unmakes Trump

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Trump formally announces his candidacy for president.

Donald Trump has been receiving some very bad headlines. Last week his poll numbers took their first serious hit after he fought with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, parents of a Muslim Army captain who heroically sacrificed himself in Iraq. He topped himself on August 9 by committing an act of stochastic terrorism, using his pulpit to plant an idea in supporters’ minds that assassinating Hillary Clinton might be a good idea.

What lasting effect any of this will have on him remains to be seen. His supporters are cult-like and he has proven almost impervious to bad publicity. Yet for a man who relentlessly seeks the spotlight and who recently said, “All press is good press,” Trump has long had a tumultuous relationship with the media.

One of the few consistent planks of Trump’s platform is his opposition to the first amendment. He wants to loosen libel laws to let him go after critics and has sued The Onion and Bill Maher for their satire. At rallies he regularly points to the press pit and insults the reporters and photographers. He has revoked press credentials for several national outlets, including the “phony and dishonest” Washington Post.

Trump has reason to be testy – most mainstream coverage of him is negative. But he brings it on himself. His unhinged narcissism and lack of filter led him to dog-whistle for violence against his opponent and pick a fight with the parents of a slain veteran. He lacks the intellectual capacity to answer even basic questions and when he does outline a concrete position, it’s often bigoted, authoritarian and even terroristic. Frankly, it’s nearly impossible to find anything positive to say about the man.

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No, that’s not a Hollywood caricature of a tyrannical billionaire – this man is actually running for president as a populist champion of the white working class.

Yet Trump as we know him would not exist without the media. He’s been a big tabloid draw for decades. When attention dried up, a desperate Donald would plant tips about himself to the media under the assumed identity of his own publicist. He cultivated celebrity friendships wherever he could, schmoozing with and entertaining stars. And of course, The Apprentice aired 14 seasons and would likely have gone longer had Trump not won the GOP nomination.

His hat was first thrown seriously into the political arena when he carried the torch for the racist birther conspiracy, which held that the nation’s first black president was a non-native citizen born in Kenya. Around this time Trump became a regular caller on morning news shows, particularly FOX & Friends. While he was widely dismissed as a carnival barker and a kook, by taking his calls so dutifully the media gave Trump the steady exposure he needed to build a political following.

According to high-level insiders his entire 2016 campaign was initially based on seeking attention, and he’s gotten plenty of it. During the primaries Trump garnered some $3 billion in free media coverage. His campaign has barely spent anything on advertising. They haven’t had to, because Trump is constantly in the news anyway. The media made Donald Trump and, after struggling to cover him responsibly, are now allowing him space on their front pages and nightly news shows to unmake himself.

Because of the historic unpopularity of both candidates, it’s widely predicted that whoever gets more attention will lose the election. While Clinton fights for a low profile, Trump is daily giving the media something new and trivial to discuss, usually some sexist, racist or violent remark. The same media shallowness that allowed a boob like Trump to become a prominent public figure in the first place is now undermining his campaign as his every idiotic word is repeated ad nauseam.

Trump has also benefited from this. His flagrant racism goes largely unchallenged. He has advocated for torture, violating the Geneva Conventions, and killing civilians, all without much follow-up. The insane, species-threatening stance he’s taken on climate change and nuclear weapons gets very little coverage. As bad as the coverage of him is, it would be even worse if the media seriously discussed his policies rather than focusing on his petulant personality.

It’s Trump’s own insistence that he stay on the front page that will be his most likely undoing. He expects media coverage to match his own internal propaganda about what a historically magnificent person he is, but the reality of his revolting character and nightmarish fascism can be smelled a mile away. For an increasing number of Americans, including longtime Republicans, it can no longer be ignored or dismissed as mere kookiness. And Trump has only himself to blame for the constant exposure.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

Words versus deeds: Foreign policy in the 2016 election

The likely 2016 Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are the most disliked major party candidates in American history. But of all the faults these candidates have, their darkest aspects are most visible in foreign policy. And for as much as Americans don’t like the two of them, imagine what the rest of the world must think as the most powerful nation on earth prepares to hold an election between an accomplished war criminal and a maniac who pledges to become one. Continue reading

How religion determines if a mass shooter is a terrorist

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A vigil in Thailand shows solidarity with the victims in Orlando.

In the wee hours of June 12, during a period of festivity and camaraderie, 49 people were killed and more than 50 others were injured by bullets fired from a military-grade assault weapon legally purchased by a man who had been a suspected terrorist. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history, perpetrated by a US-born Muslim who pledged allegiance to ISIS. But if the killer had been anything other than Muslim, the national conversation in the tragedy’s wake might be much different.

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump took the tragedy as an opportunity to pat himself on the back for “being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” Since that widely criticized tweet, most pundits and politicians have characterized shooter Omar Mateen as a terrorist. They did the same for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and San Bernardino killers Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook. But not all mass shooters are called terrorists. Those with names like James Holmes, Adam Lanza and Jared Loughner, for instance, usually aren’t. Continue reading

Media declares Clinton victory in a contest that isn’t over

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Imagine waking up on election morning and seeing this before you’d even had a chance to vote.

The media delivered good news Monday night to people who hate democracy: there’s no need to bother voting in the six states that hold primaries on June 7 because Hillary Clinton has already secured the Democratic nomination for president. Sometime Monday evening, the AP came to this conclusion by surveying super delegates, Democratic Party insiders who can vote for the candidate of their choice regardless of how the constituents in their states vote. Continue reading

Sanders won’t cost Clinton the election – she will

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Sanders supporters voice their outrage at the Nevada Democratic Convention.

Intra-party turmoil among Democrats is at a fever pitch. Despite an overwhelming media narrative that the party’s nominating contest is over and Hillary Clinton has won it, Bernie Sanders continues to pick up primary victories. The Democratic establishment in media and politics are worried that Sanders’s continued presence in the race is hampering Clinton’s prospects against Donald Trump in November. And a season-long feud between Sanders supporters and the DNC erupted last week at a chaotic state convention in Nevada. Continue reading

Against Trump’s fascism, art is the best weapon

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The artist was left with one hell of a black eye after an encounter with Trump supporters.

One of the great pieces of art that’s come out of this presidential campaign is a nude depiction of Donald Trump by artist Illma Gore. In the painting, Trump is cast as unflatteringly as possible. All he’s wearing is a gold bracelet while his fat gut sags almost low enough to cover a button-sized micropenis. Apparently Trump’s supporters are as thin-skinned as the man himself, because on April 29 a group of them assaulted Gore over her art. Continue reading

Why it’s now more important than ever that Bernie Sanders stays in the race

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By wishing Sanders and his supporters would just go away, Clinton is dooming her general election prospects.

Hillary Clinton’s lead over Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary is cushy, but other factors continue to dog her. The FBI has been interviewing former Clinton aides and may yet indict Clinton over material found in her emails. She recently lost to Donald Trump in a Rasmussen poll. And Sanders is continuing to win primaries, including in Indiana this week.

After that Indiana win CNN host Dana Bash questioned Sanders on why he isn’t dropping out, perhaps setting a new standard for establishment condescension. But with momentum still strong on Sanders’s side, with the possibility of Clinton’s indictment, and with the longstanding myth that Clinton is more electable disappearing, it’s more important than ever that Sanders stay in the race. In fact, the best part of the election may still lie ahead of him. Continue reading

How Bernie’s movement should ‘support’ Hillary Clinton

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Sanders’s grassroots-driven campaign drew record-breaking crowds and donations, which famously averaged a mere $27.

Hillary Clinton had a huge night on Tuesday, winning four out of five states and expanding her already substantial delegate lead. From here Bernie Sanders needs to win about 1,000 of 1,200 delegates remaining to clinch the nomination. Not even the most inspired idealist can fail to recognize the rapidly shrinking prospect of Sanders becoming the Democratic nominee. Tradition dictates that a losing candidate’s supporters vote for the party’s eventual nominee in the general election, but this election has been anything but traditional. Continue reading

Corporate media ignores massive Democracy Spring protests

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Activists gather on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. to protest money in politics and fight to overturn Citizens United.

Those who get their news primarily from the television may have missed the record-breaking protests going on in Washington, D.C. over the last week. Activists hoping to bring a “Democracy Spring” to the U.S. have been demonstrating against the corrupting influence of money in politics. More than 1,400 of them have been arrested since protesting began on April 11, breaking the arrest record for “non-violent direct action protests in Washington for a single week,” according to The Nation.

But mum’s the word in corporate media. According to The Intercept, in the days following the start of protests the three major cable networks devoted less than 30 seconds of coverage to them. CNN didn’t mention them at all. MSNBC talked about them for 12 seconds. FOX News talked about them for 17 seconds. Even then the networks missed the point, characterizing the activists as pushing “for improved ballot access and voting rights.” Continue reading