Covering Trump

Jim Rutenberg, media columnist for the New York Times, posed a question in yesterday’s paper that has been looming over the presidential contest:

“If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?”

Aggressively. That’s the response he gets when he asks some of those directing coverage of the race, including his own paper’s senior editor for politics, Carolyn Ryan, and Washington Post managing editor Cameron Barr.

But aggressive coverage, in this context, means exposing some truths about the race that conventional mainstream journalism is simply unaccustomed to handling.

Rutenberg points to a recent piece by Ezra Klein of Vox, which argues that this year’s race is not simply a choice between Democrat and Republican, but between “normal and abnormal.”

Or consider a video recently posted by the Times, compiled from Trump rallies over the last year. “His supporters at these events often express their views in angry and provocative ways,” reads the paper’s dispassionate summary. There’s little mistaking, though, the message conveyed by the “highlights” reel: This guy is dangerously nuts — and so are a lot of his followers.

In covering the race, more reporters and news organizations seem to be heeding a warning once offered by Daniel Okrent, a former Times public editor. “Okrent’s law,” as it has come to be known, holds that “the pursuit of balance can create imbalance because sometimes something is true.”

Thus, when reporters point out how regularly Trump plays loose with facts, they are just doing their job. Of course, Hillary Clinton has shown more than a passing familiarity with the art of prevarication. But she’s a piker by comparison, Nicholas Kristof argued in yesterday’s Times. “If deception were a sport, Trump would be the Olympic gold medalist; Clinton would be an honorable mention at her local Y,” he wrote.

Kristof goes on to provide some evidence to back that, including the PolitiFact finding that 27 percent of the Clinton statements it investigated were deemed mostly false or worse, compared to a whopping 70 percent of Trump’s.

Pointing out such disparities, or sounding the alarm on Trump’s alarming statements on the use of nuclear weapons, is how a lot of the unconventional coverage of an unconventional candidate has played out. But Rutenberg says coverage is now going beyond that. It is taking on the air of what the Columbia Journalism Review recently called a “Murrow moment,” recalling the point at which famed CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow’s coverage of Joe McCarthy went from aggressively skeptical to sounding a frank warning to Americans about the threat he posed. Rutenberg says reporters are increasingly willing to describe Trump antics as “erratic” or call out as “dangerous” his warnings that the electoral system is rigged against him.

It’s been decades since American journalism was faced with a situation like this. Depending on how the race unfolds, the coming weeks may well feature more Murrow moments.




Charlie Baker’s charmed run on Beacon Hill shows no signs of ebbing, writes Frank Phillips, who says the Republican governor has mastered the art of good relations with Democratic legislators. (Boston Globe)

Paul F. Levy and Farzana Mohamed say there may be unintended consequences with the recently approved pay equity law. (CommonWealth)

A Boston Herald editorial praises Baker’s budget vetoes and says lawmakers were irresponsible to override so many of them with the state fiscal picture so unclear.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, based in Newtown, Connecticut, says it plans to sue Attorney General Maura Healey over her directive on copycat assault weapons. (Masslive)


Wayland selectmen have agreed to pay a $1,000 fine after the Attorney General’s office determined they intentionally violated the Open Meeting Law. (MetroWest Daily News)


Sen. Elizabeth Warren calls the Democratic National Committee email hack, which showed the party’s thumb on the scale to help HIllary Clinton, a “national embarrassment.” (Boston Herald) She also says she doesn’t understand why Clinton named US Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former DNC chair, to be honorary chair of her campaign committee. (WCVB)

A woman is arrested for vandalizing a homeowner’s Trump signs in Andover. (Eagle-Tribune)

Medical marijuana interests are backing a ballot question legalizing pot because they will be the first to cash in if it happens. (Lowell Sun) CommonWealth wrote about the medical marijuana licensing preference provision in the initiative back in May.

Lexington physician Jill Stein, now the official Green Party presidential nominee, makes a pitch for Bernie Sanders supporters to ditch the Democrats and join her quixotic cause. (Boston Herald)


Biotech executives seem to have figured out a way to legally benefit from insider trading. (STAT)

Museums around the world say there is a sharp increase in damage to historic, natural, and artistic exhibits caused by visitors who are either clueless or malicious. (New York Times)


More than 100 Boston Public Schools teachers remain without assignments for the fall but, as tenured instructors, remain on the payroll at a cost of $8 million a year. (Boston Globe)


Long-term care insurance rates are soaring for Massachusetts residents — despite passage of a law four years aimed at reining in such increases. (Boston Globe)

Bedbugs continue to be a problem at an elderly public housing complex in Quincy despite officials bringing beagles to sniff out the insects and using chemicals and high heat to try to eradicate the pests. (Patriot Ledger)


James Aloisi says it must be August because he’s seeing so many boneheaded transportation moves and comments. (CommonWealth)

Thanks to tourists, the ferry between Boston and Salem is self-sustaining, the operator says. (Salem News)

Flytenow, the Uber of aviation, is challenging the FAA’s decision to shut it down because the agency determined the service was operating as a common carrier without a license. (National Review)

It’s not a good morning to be flying Delta. (Boston Globe)


Onlookers and rescuers worked to save 15 stranded dolphins that beached themselves over the weekend on Cape Cod. (Cape Cod Times)


The number of jury trials has fallen dramatically, the result, experts say, of minimum mandatory sentences that put the power in prosecutors’ hands and discourage defendants from going to trial. (New York Times)

GateHouse Media is looking to make cuts through buyouts to nonunion employees, offering one week severance for each year of service up to a maximum of 17 weeks for those with 20 or more years of service. (Media Nation)