Today we witness one of the greatest scandals in the history of professional journalism. Many of America’s leading television news companies are so fully in the tank for Donald TrumpDonald TrumpPence takes victory lap at CPAC: ‘This is our time’ President Trump, immigrants are not 'bad dudes' Zuckerberg group donated to Trump transition MORE that they should file with the Federal Elections Commission and report their coverage of the 2016 election as political donations to his presidential campaign.
Many TV news organizations — led by CNN — have turned their campaign coverage into virtual infomercials for the Trump campaign that masquerade as news, supporting a reality television show personality who masquerades as a potential president.
The absurd proportion of air time given to Trump comes at the expense of far more qualified and electable Republican candidates, who are deprived of air time to present their viewpoints on the issues and their qualifications. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), vying for the Democratic nomination, faces a virtual television news blackout compared to the saturation coverage given to the real estate mogul.
Except for worthy news organizations such as CBS News, C-SPAN and public broadcasting, there is no longer a pretense from most television news organizations that the public airwaves create a public trust. In the television news scandal of campaign 2016, the issues of economic well-being, safety and security that deeply concern voters are almost never discussed with professionalism, substance and depth by news organizations, which instead gleefully report ad nauseam Trump’s insults against other people’s race, faith, gender and disabilities.
News organizations in the tank for Trump shamefully fail to distinguish between the lie and the truth in the reporting of news and to offer persistent follow-up questioning to challenge the lies he tells and the politics of bigotry he plays. After all, independent fact-checker PolitiFact gave Trump its Lie of the Year award for a host of what it calls “inaccurate statements.”
Consider his stance on immigration. He claims the Mexican government is “sending” immigrants to America, asserts that most of those immigrants are rapists and murderers, and promises Mexico will pay for his new version of the Berlin Wall to keep immigrants out. Those are three lies in one sentence. The Mexican government does not “send” immigrants to America. Most of them are not rapists and murderers. And it is more likely that I will be a starting quarterback in the Super Bowl than Mexico will pay for Trump’s wall.
As for Trump’s attacks against the Clintons, he now claims his effusive praise of Bill Clinton as president and Hillary Clinton as secretary of State was a lie — for two decades — and only given because he was a businessman groveling to curry their favor. When will someone in television news directly and persistently ask Trump if he was lying then or is lying now? Will he again utter words of adoration to the Clintons if she becomes president and he returns to business?
Meanwhile, TV news features journalists who suffer from Trumpfluenza and cannot figure out whether the most popular living former president, who is fondly remembered for bringing a decade of plentiful jobs and widespread prosperity, will help or hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.
When will TV news journalists challenge Trump about the demonstrable falsehoods in his immigration statements? Or ask him how much money he made from putting his name on clothing made in China when he pretends to support American workers? Or confront him about how he would feel to learn that disabled boys and girls see him mocking disabled people on television and ask: “Mom, why is that man making fun of me?” Or ask Trump — persistently — why exactly he admires Russian strongman Vladimir Putin so much?
Much of television news is in the tank for Trump. It is unprofessional and scandalous. But ultimately it won’t matter, because television news suffers from trust ratings as low as his.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sens. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Contributors blog and reached at email@example.com.