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Friday, May 13, 2016

It's time to take off the kid gloves!

The general election is upon us. There won’t be any do-overs. It’s time for journalists to honor the good name of their profession and take off the kid gloves. If they don’t put down their softballs, if they don’t stop letting simple-minded questions substitute for serious exploration, they’ll share responsibility for enabling — and helping elect — President Donald J. Trump.

The constant spotlight fixed on Donald Trump for the last year would have overwhelmed any other candidate, particularly one so evasive. But not him: Trump now campaigns as pro-life — but he was “very pro-choice” well into his 50s; he boasts that he’ll defeat the Islamic State “very, very quickly,” but won’t specify how; he claims he’s worth billions, but won’t release his tax returns. He became the GOP’s presidential nominee without revealing anything approaching a clear picture of his mind or his history. How’d he do it?

He cracked campaign reporters’ code. And if they don’t want to get rolled again in the general election, journalists have to change tactics.

Early in this campaign season, Sunday morning network news hosts granted Trump the special prerogative of phoning in for interviews, off camera, making it impossible to know, in real time, if he was consulting notes or advisers during interviews. And because of an early polling lead based in large measure on his near-universal name recognition, Trump was center-stage getting most of the air time during every GOP primary debate.

In those debates, and in interviews, Trump regularly runs circles around interviewers because they pare their follow-up questions down to a minimum, or none at all. After 30-plus years in the media spotlight, he knows how to wait out an interviewer, offering noncommittal soundbites and incoherent rejoinders until he hears the phrase, “let’s move on.” He takes advantage of the slipshod, shallow techniques journalism has made routine, particularly on TV — techniques that, in the past, were sufficient to trip up less-media-savvy candidates — but that Trump knows how to sidestep. (much more at WaPo)

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski regularly host Trump, but almost never interrogate him. Recently, in off-air banter during a “Morning Joe” commercial break, Brzezinski called a portion of one of Trump’s rallies a “wow moment,” to which Trump replied, “You have me almost as a legendary figure. I like that.”

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