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Corporate media is still walking on eggshells with Trump coverage
They hit him hard one minute, then pull back the next--when they need to go rapid fire. The good news is they appear to be responding to criticism.
Over the weekend, The New York Times published a powerful and chilling story at the top of its homepage on Saturday, “Sweeping Raids, Giant Camps and Mass Deportations: Inside Trump’s 2025 Immigration Plans.” The article was as gripping and urgent as the headline, detailing, with quotes from Trump’s advisers, exactly what Trump plans to do if elected president again.
Later in the day, however, after Trump the night before gave perhaps the most terrifying speech he’s ever given, in which Trump vowed to “root out the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country,” the Times published a story about it right under the “Giant Camps” story on the homepage.
But that headline by far didn’t convey what the story was about or what Trump said: “Trump Takes Veterans Day Speech in a Very Different Direction.” The Times article had all the brutal facts in the story, but the headline just completely muted them.
What “different direction” were they talking about? In fact, for Trump, this was the same direction—to autocracy and dictatorship, and that should have been highlighted. Forbes, for example, went with this much more clear and accurate headline: “Trump Compares Political Foes To ‘Vermin’ On Veterans Day—Echoing Nazi Propaganda.”
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Later in the day, after an uproar of criticism on social media, the Times changed the headline to, “In Veterans Day Speech, Trump Promises to ‘Root Out’ the Left.” (This was a lot better, but really, the word “vermin” and the historical context of fascism needed to be in the headline.)
This seems to be an example yet another phenomenon in the years-long shocking inability of America’s corporate political media to cover Donald Trump, so stuck to their old ways.
So much smart criticism has been written about the terrible ways media has operated going back to the 2016 campaign. Much of it has focused on how reporters still can’t grapple with how to handle Trump as a candidate and political figure, even after years of explosive town halls that have brought disrepute to networks, and newspapers taking a hit for blowing up Hillary Clinton’s emails while largely giving Trump a pass on so much.
But some of the criticism has made a dent. We’re now seeing some genuinely great stories and deep dives by the media exposing Trump’s extremism and his plans if he’s elected once again for a complete government makeover to put enormous power solely in the hands of the president, like the Times report this past July on Project 2025. Like the Times, the Washington Post has published stories, placed prominently and with original reporting, about Trump's plans connected to Project 2025, including a piece a week ago about how he will weaponize the DOJ against his perceived enemies.
Many of the TV networks, as they usually do, take the lead from the papers and have covered these stories, and thus we’re seeing TV news reflecting the urgency more.
But it’s far from perfect, and the Washington Post this weekend showed yet another example of the media walking on eggshells.
After their terrific story on Trump’s plan to weaponize the DOJ and a story a few days ago about how Trump confirmed these plans in an interview on Univision, the Post didn’t cover Trump's Friday night “vermin” speech at all on Saturday.
Just as happened with the Time headline, there was also an uproar about the absence of a story in the Post on social media. No one should underestimate the power of social media criticisms that go viral, even with Twitter completely broken. Prominent reporters and editors are still on Twitter, and they’re now on Threads, Bluesky, and, of course, Facebook and other networks. They see the criticism.
By Sunday afternoon—quite late—the Post finally had a story. And its headline, if it didn’t make up for the tardiness, at least got it 100% right: “Trump calls political enemies 'vermin,’ echoing dictators Hitler and Mussolini.“
Great. But where was the story? Buried way down on the homepage, not up top. As of right now, as I write this, Trump’s fraud trial is prominently up top, while the “vermin” story is way down in the “Election 2024” coverage after you scroll down quite a bit.
But tellingly, it is also at number 4 in “Most Read”—a section that is slightly higher up on the page—so people are sharing it on social media and reading—and many others would have an interest in it. If only they could see it prominently on the homepage. Obviously, while the developments at the Post were good, they still have work to do.
I can’t say I saw much of the TV coverage on Sunday, but I did catch CNN’s Dana Bash on "State of the Union" asking Ronna McDaniel, the RNC chairwoman, about Trump’s “vermin” comment.
She didn’t actually play the Trump clip, though, which is telling in that CNN didn’t seem to think it warranted being played. She read Trump's statements, and she asked the question in a sort of “come on, really?” kind of way, when, in 2023, it should be serious, declarative, and in the historical context of fascism. Not effective questioning. Then she accepted it when McDaniel blew her off by saying she wasn’t going to comment on candidates’ statements in a contested primary.
There was social media criticism of that too. And lo and behold, today on CNN, Bash was more definitive in reporting on the “vermin” speech on her “Inside Politics” program. She played the clip, took a serious tone, and expressly pointed out that this was language that Hilter and Mussolini used, no doubt using the Washington Post story as a guide. Her panel then had a very serious discussion about this horrific turning point in Trump’s campaign.
So yes, all of this tells us how the media is still walking on eggshells—doing great reporting, but then worried about going too hard on Trump and pulling back. But there is nothing too hard when it comes to fascism, and journalists need to hit Trump over and over even if they have five horrendous stories a day. He is that unhinged, that much more extreme and that much of a danger.
The good news is that we’re seeing some very good reporting. And the corporate media is responding to criticism on social media. They’re also taking cues from one another, as Bash perhaps did in seeing the Washington Post make the clear connection to Hitler and Mussolini after she dropped the ball earlier.
It shows that if we continue to be relentless in our criticisms and demand corporate media accountability, we can make a difference. And it’s vital that we all do that right now.