Presidential races

Trump, Clinton battle over media bias

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Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are taking steps to open up to the press while also intensifying their criticism of the media as both look to shape coverage in the presidential campaign’s final 60 days.

Trump has lifted a controversial ban on certain outlets from covering his rallies, while Clinton this week broke a 278-day long streak of not holding a press conference.

{mosads}But the increase in access has come begrudgingly and under pressure, and in both instances with strings attached.

Clinton’s team has stepped up its attacks on the media, increasingly arguing the coverage is unfair and that Trump has received kid’s gloves treatment from the press. Clinton surrogates pointed to Matt Lauer’s handling of a presidential forum on MSNBC this week as exhibit A.

Trump’s campaign routinely battles with media figures; on Friday Trump tweeted that CNN is an appendage of the Clinton campaign. His love-hate affair with the media, which has enjoyed high ratings from Trump’s entrance to politics, is if anything more intense than Clinton’s. 

The stakes are high for Clinton and Trump.

Both candidates are image-conscious, historically unpopular, and hell-bent on controlling how the media portrays them through the home-stretch.

“Undecided voters are at record levels — something like 15 to 20 percent,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “Therefore, the campaign that wins the media coverage over the next 60 days is very likely to win the presidential election.”

Critics and members of the media have accused Clinton of hiding from questions about her use of a private email server as secretary of State and connections between the Clinton Foundation and her State Department.

Clinton spent August almost entirely off the campaign trail for a string of private fundraisers. In that time, her favorability numbers plunged and polls of the presidential race tightened significantly, leading some Democrats to worry the election was slipping away.

The Democratic nominee has engaged more with the press in September. She began travelling on the same airplane as the reporters covering her campaign on Labor Day, and on two instances has stepped into the back cabin to briefly address the cameras.

In the press conference on Thursday, Clinton vented her frustration at the press’s coverage of the race – one of several instances in which her campaign has directly sought to influence how the media portrays her.

“I’ve been somewhat heartened by articles recently pointing out the disparate treatment of Trump and his campaign compared to ours — I don’t understand the reasons,” Clinton said. “I find it frustrating, but it’s part of the landscape we live in and we keep forging ahead.”

Clinton’s aides have similarly locked horns with the press, warning reporters to tread carefully in covering rumors about her health problems and the coughing fits that have at times plagued her on the campaign trail.

And Clinton’s liberal supporters are joining the fight, lashing out at Lauer this week for pressing Clinton on the controversy surrounding her use of a private email server as secretary of State. Lauer also came under fire for not challenging Trump’s claim that he opposed the Iraq war from the start.

It has become a matter of orthodoxy on the left that Trump, a highly unconventional candidate who has courted controversy at every turn, is being “normalized” by the press.

Liberals argue that Trump’s campaign has been so over-the-top that he’s being lauded by the media for instances of basic competency — like standing on the same stage as the president of Mexico during a trip that Democrats believe was an international debacle.

“Donald Trump, who lies whenever he speaks and whose foundation is a Ponzi scheme compared to the Clintons’, is being graded on a ridiculously generous curve,” liberal commentator Michael Tomasky wrote this week at The Daily Beast.

And Democrats believe there is a media frenzy around Clinton aimed at magnifying anything that has the whiff of controversy, arguing that the State Department and Clinton Foundation controversies have been beaten to death by a press corps that is eager to take her down.

“We have the presumption that anything Hillary Clinton does must be corrupt,” liberal economist Paul Krugman wrote this week at the New York Times.

At her press conference on Thursday, Clinton said she’s used to living under these circumstances and insinuated that she would have to win the election in spite of the media’s bias against her.

“I’m not asking for any special treatment,” Clinton said. “I know the road that I’m on. I’ve been on it for 25 years and I just get up and keep moving forward.”

The Clinton campaign has made an effort to show a personal side they believe the media fails to convey. 

This week, Clinton sat for a portrait with the popular “Humans of New York” website and talked about how her lifetime in the public eye has led her to be more closed-off at times, leading to the perception that she is “aloof or cold or unemotional.”

Clinton will be speaking more openly about her Methodist faith in speeches the campaign hopes will resonate emotionally with voters.

Trump has long been at war with the press.

He has singled out individual reporters for ridicule, whipped crowds into a frenzy against the reporters sitting in bullpens covering his rallies, and has added the media to the list of establishment institutions he’s vowing to crush on his way to the White House.

But this week the Trump campaign, which had been denying media credentials to a half-dozen outlets for what it believed to be unfair press coverage, lifted its media blacklist.

“I figure they can’t treat me any worse,” Trump said cheekily.

Trump’s shift was a surprise to many, as it came shortly after his campaign’s addition of former Breitbart News CEO Steve Bannon. Breitbart has ascended to prominence by running headlong against the media and political establishment.

Trump now uses a teleprompter at most of his rallies, as his newly-installed campaign team tries to keep him on message for the final stretch.

But Trump’s suspicion of the press remains strong, and he delights in going off-script to bash the media as dishonest, corrupt, and intent on destroying him.

Trump is furious with the media for questioning his claims that he was always opposed to the war in Iraq. At an education speech in Cleveland on Thursday, Trump went on an extended diatribe in defense of his past remarks about the conflict.

“I have to do this because the media is so dishonest, so terribly dishonest,” Trump said.

“I just had to set the record straight because there’s so much lying going on.”

On Friday, Trump went on a Twitter tirade against CNN, apparently angered by a documentary the cable news outlet plans to air this weekend.

“CNN is unwatchable,” Trump tweeted. “Their news on me is fiction. They are a disgrace to the broadcasting industry and an arm of the Clinton campaign.”

For Republicans, it has long been held as orthodoxy that the media is overwhelmingly liberal and biased against them. 

But many conservatives believe reporters have dropped any veneer of impartiality now that Trump is the nominee. 

“Essentially the media has made the collective determination that Trump is ‘dangerous’ and they are going to let everyone know about it,” said O’Connell.

“It’s a sheer media pile on, and I have never seen anything like it,” he added. “Dole, Bush, McCain never got treated like this. Forget Trump’s flaws or verbal miscues for a second, the mainstream media have abandoned its journalistic credo for fairness and flat out tilted the coverage against Trump.”


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