The Media's Obsession With Turning the Trump Team's Comments Into News Stories Is Terrible Journalism

AP Photo/File

I mean, to be fair, terrible journalism is a dime-a-dozen thing these days, but there has been a string of these really awful premises for stories about GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis that are directly tied to comments that come from former president Donald Trump or his camp. It’s just sloppy stuff.

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Earlier this week, we got a story from Axios on how DeSantis and the DeSantis team apparently have been pronouncing his last name differently. This story, however, appears to have originated from observations made by the Trump team and even blasted out in a press release from Trump himself.

Asked the proper way to pronounce his name, DeSantis’ campaign did not answer. The super PAC, Never Back Down, declined to say.

Former President Trump has chided DeSantis over the different pronunciations.

  • “Ron DeSantis is a phony who can’t decide how to pronounce his name,” Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung told Axios. “If you can’t get your name right, how can you lead a country?”

I have reached out to the DeSantis campaign about this so-called “issue,” as well. As I have not gotten a response, I can only assume it is their hope to keep the mystery alive and I cannot bring myself to be mad about this. As a fan of Sherlock Holmes stories, I love a good mystery.

But while Axios couches this as a story that has “plagued” the DeSantis team for years, I am struggling to find any serious critique of it outside of highly partisan outlets and commentators, as well as political opponents like Trump; and Trump’s team is the only one pushing it to the level of it getting real news coverage.

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Following the Axios report, the Trump team began claiming DeSantis was not taking questions from voters at various campaign events. So, an AP reporter asked DeSantis why he wasn’t taking questions from voters while DeSantis was in the middle of talking to voters.

That led to a follow-up report from NBC, who was quick to take the AP reporter’s side and managed to find a couple of people who were “disappointed” in DeSantis’ response. But most people who saw the video clip or read about DeSantis’ pushback appeared to be cheering the way he continues to stand up to the press while also taking part in the actual ground game of a national campaign.

That, then, leads to this morning. POLITICO has released an absolute abomination of a story that is based on a throwaway line from, of all people, Steve Bannon.

Jessica Benham is a state legislator in Pennsylvania, representing a district that includes parts of Pittsburgh and its environs. A cofounder of the Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy, she’s one of the only openly autistic state legislators anywhere in the United States.

As a Democrat and the first out LGBTQ woman in the state house, Benham’s politics aren’t exactly those of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Republican who signed the sunshine state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.

But she recently found herself in the somewhat surprising position of pushing back against an emerging line of attack against DeSantis, something that’s been trotted out by supporters of Donald Trump: The attempt to draw attention to DeSantis’ awkward public presence by claiming that the GOP presidential hopeful is “a little bit on the spectrum,” as Trump hatchet man Steve Bannon first put it last week.

It’s not that Benham thinks such a diagnosis would be disqualifying. Rather, she’s troubled by the act of armchair diagnosis as a way of knocking someone. The implication is that the status of being on the spectrum is problematic or shameful or bad — and, at any rate, something intentionally kept secret.

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There is no reason, as Jeff Blehar of National Review pointed out on Twitter this morning, that this piece should have been authorized, much less written and published. To take a throwaway insult referring to DeSantis as autistic and turn it into the basis of a featured story is ridiculous. It’s absolutely correct that such an insult should not be used, but what exactly are you expecting from folks like Trump and Bannon? Even if this particular piece ostensibly defends DeSantis, it’s still a piece that is treating everything Trump and his team/vocal supporters are saying as the key stories of a news cycle.

It’s really just highlighting the extremely unfortunate fact that, while they had been routinely attacking Trump and elevating everything about him into a scandal, they also need him to win the primary and will use his talking points to attack DeSantis. Trump, they recall, equaled ratings from 2016 to 2020. Once he left office, ratings, pageviews, etc. tanked. Now that he’s back on the campaign trail and vying for the White House again, they need his campaign to run as long as possible. So, use his talking points and turn them into stories about DeSantis.

It’s a pitiful excuse for journalism.

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