The mainstream media is nothing if not predictable, especially during a presidential election. They spend the bulk of their time during the election process concerned with the horse race angle of the election. Nearly any time a candidate is caught up in a gaffe or some other kind of campaign flub, the media spends most of its time examining it through the lens of how it will affect their standing and what, if any effect it has on the polls. Not instead on the merits or substance or what it says about the candidate, if it says anything at all.
There is nothing talking heads on television enjoy more than a lead-in to a segment exploring how the race is “tightening.” Blowout elections are always boring. It’s evident especially now that Hillary’s six point lead in the RCP average from August 26 is down to three. In fact, the media and their choices and style of coverage have played a large part in driving the narratives for both candidates since the summer of 2015. Again, this is as opposed to the substance or merits.
For Hillary, her ascendancy to the Democratic nomination was a foregone conclusion. At least until Bernie Sanders got into the race. Suddenly, her coronation was in jeopardy. The press knew this and gave a lot of attention to negative Hillary news, particularly (and justifiably) her email scandal, and a hell of a lot of attention to Sanders despite him having some of the goofiest left wing ideas on record.
As for Trump, the media (particularly television media) was content to largely give him a pass on nearly anything he said and did including leading up to and during the primaries. One of the more egregious acts by Trump was in February at a debate in South Carolina where Trump not only faulted George W. Bush for the attacks on 9/11 but also suggested he could have stopped it and didn’t. In addition, Trump went the route Democrats often do, claiming President Bush “lied” the United States into the Iraq War. There were no repercussions from the press for this. They spent most of their time wondering if such lunacy would “stick” to Trump instead of reporting that what Trump said was demonstrably false.
Hillary on the other hand, faced a relentless press who dogged her as much as they could about her emails, asking her questions about them every chance they got. They were not amused when she was asked if she wiped her server and she responded sarcastically, “You mean, like with a cloth?” Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders was racking up primary and caucus wins and making the Clinton camp very nervous.
This all changed the moment Clinton and Trump secured their nominations.
From that moment on, the press took on their seemingly mandatory role of examining everything the GOP candidate does with a microscope and giving passes to the Democratic nominee. When Trump went over the delegate threshold to get the nomination, the media was hit with their dose of what I call, “Request Slip Fever.” If you’ve ever seen ‘All The Presidents Men’ there is a scene where Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) are in the Library of Congress peering through giant stacks of book request slips, attempting to tie a White House aid to the Watergate break-in. For Trump — his shady deals, Trump University, his campaign spending, issues with charities and his own foundation — suddenly found scrutiny that previously could only be found on the pages of National Review and RedState.
For Hillary, the theme of “First Woman President!” took hold. When the FBI released its report about Hillary’s emails, the press discussed for a day how bad it would be for her but there was never much follow up. The media generally waited unless something fell into their laps they could not ignore. When questions surrounding Hillary’s health began to surface, the press guffawed, saying any such questions were part of an overall “conspiracy theory.” The questions were first raised by conservative media outlets. Predictably, the mainstream media would blow it off.
Of course, now that video surfaced showing Hillary nearly teetering over before being held up by her security detail and then practically carried into the van waiting for her after hastily leaving a 9/11 memorial, the questions became legit. When the Clinton camp revealed Hillary had been diagnosed with a form of pneumonia two days before the incident in question, the media shifted to indignant mode. Yes, the same media that spent the last week to 10 days yelling at everybody for making this an issue, was now upset Hillary did not inform them. Despite this supposed “anger” at the administration, some in the press ignored it, put their Hillary armor back and and ran out to do their sacred duty.
One might have expected at least an overture from the press to show they had changed. Alas, if everything was different, it wouldn’t be the same. Consequently, we’re left with a media infrastructure that is not going to change any time soon.