Of all the many, many words about Hillary Clinton uttered at the Republican National Convention, the truest may have been these, from the party’s vice presidential nominee, the governor of Indiana, Mike Pence: “She’ll have the press doing half her work for her.”
You can hear it on taxpayer-funded National Public Radio, where one reporter on “All Things Considered” earnestly asked a black woman GOP at-large delegate about Trump, “Do you believe that he is a racist?”
You can read it in The New York Times, which put all pretense of neutrality aside by greeting the Republican convention with front-page headlines such as, “Rancor Reigns as Bitterly Divided Republicans Begin Their Convention.” That headline was unintentionally true, if you count the rancor of whoever wrote it at the Times.
Then, after the Republicans featured convention speeches from Dr. Benjamin Carson and black local officials from Milwaukee and Colorado, the Times ran a front-page headline: “Black Republicans See a White Convention, Heavy on Lectures.”
The Times paraphrased one attendee describing the 2016 convention as “one of the whitest in memory.” As a newspaper storyline for Republican conventions, that one qualifies as a hardy perennial; in 2008, a Washington Post news article contended, “Republicans are presenting a convention that is almost entirely white.”
The New York Times story this year did report that “one party official estimated that there were 80 black delegates.” But the newspaper did not tell its readers that — if this was an accurate count — it would be a marked increase from the 47 black delegates at the Republican convention in Tampa in 2012 or the 38 in Minneapolis in 2008.
It’s not that The New York Times doesn’t write articles about the problems with Mrs. Clinton’s policies. In the past week the newspaper has published not one but two separate pieces detailing just how Hillary Clinton’s plan to make tuition at public colleges “free” for families earning less than $125,000 a year is a really bad idea. “The plan could have the perverse effect of driving tuition higher,” the Times warned.
Another Times column detailed the problems with heavily subsidizing wind and solar energy, as Hillary Clinton proposes — but without mentioning her at all. Both the tuition coverage and the energy coverage ran inside the newspaper, not on the front page, where the anti-Trump headlines are.
What’s unusual in this election is that the anti-Trump tilt extends beyond traditionally left-of-center organs such as The New York Times or National Public Radio. It has also affected conservative outlets, including news magazines such as the Weekly Standard, Commentary and National Review, some widely syndicated conservative newspaper columnists and television commentators, at least one Fox News anchor, and at least one Wall Street Journal editorial page columnist.
Why are they all so adamantly anti-Trump? The NPR and New York Times types were against Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, too. But there are two new factors with Trump that go beyond mere partisanship and may help to explain some of the intensity and extent of the opposition.
First, he’s a disintermediator. When Trump bypasses the press to deal with voters directly — on Twitter, at mass rallies, in live videostreams — he reminds the reporters and editors that they may become obsolete.
Second — and this particularly applies to the conservative media — Trump makes them look like fools. First they said he wouldn’t run. Then they said he couldn’t win. If he wins, it will prove them wrong. They don’t want that.
When Gov. Pence said the press would be doing half of Mrs. Clinton’s work for her, the only thing he may have gotten slightly wrong was the percentage. He may have underestimated it.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of “JFK: Conservative.” His column appears Sunday.