That 'birther' thing: The media erupts while Main Street yawns

The one known truth of this election cycle since Donald J. Trump first stepped on the escalator at his Trump Tower headquarters in New York to announce his candidacy, is that voters who support him have always taken what he says seriously, but not literally. Meanwhile, the political class, which includes reporters and pundits, have always taken him literally, but not seriously.

So, for instance, when he said “We are going to ban all Muslims,” his voters interpreted that as he shared their concerns, and was promising to keep them safe.


Of course, reporters interpreted his comments exactly as he said them. That led the media to contact constitutional scholars on the legality of Trump’s words, to reach out to immigrant families for their reaction and to report endlessly on the implications of the threat to ban Muslims.

The same goes for the “birther” flap, that has consumed the news cycle for the past 24 hours. It began Thursday evening, when Trump said, in an interview with The Washington Post, that he was going to wait to acknowledge where the president was born. Shortly after that, the campaign released a statement saying that Trump now believes Obama was born in the United States.

By Friday morning, Trump said, "President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFeehery: A whole new season of 'Game of Thrones' Mercury rollback is a direct threat to our children's health Lightfoot takes office as Chicago's first black woman mayor MORE was born in the United States. Period." He then promptly ignored reporters’ follow-up questions.

Washington’s political class and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection What the Mueller report tells us about Putin, Russia and Trump's election Steve Bullock puts Citizens United decision at center of presidential push MORE immediately exploded in an uproar, with the Democratic nominee blasting him at an event in Philadelphia on Friday. Clinton said Trump’s campaign was founded on an “outrageous lie” and that “there is no erasing it in history.”

Cries of racism and bigotry peppered her speech, with her surrogates echoing it on social media, suggesting once again that anyone who supported someone so racist was part of his “basket of deplorables” coalition.

In South Fayette in southwestern Pennsylvania, Karen, a nurse, mother and grandmother, dismissed the notion that anyone outside of Washington was talking about the latest controversy about Trump, “You do realize that people aren’t paying attention to the daily dramas of this cycle,” she said.

Karen declined to say who she was voting for, “But I will tell you this, education, economics and security are the issues people I know are thinking about, not the controversy du jour the media takes delight in,” she said.

Trump’s appearance to put the “birther” controversy to bed was hinted at also being a press conference. But the Republican nominee instead deflected questions shouted at him, and only permitted still photographers and video cameras to continue with the tour of his newest hotel in Washington D.C. 

In a show of defiant solidarity, the television network pool photographer erased the video of Trump giving the tour of his hotel, protesting reporters’ lack of editorial presence on the tour.

Karen rolled her eyes at this news, paused then said, “Does it ever occur to you how self-serving you all can seem?” she says of the press, “I recall the same type of recoil when Obama locked the press out, you still have to find a way to do your job,” she said.

The difference between how America outside of Washington views the news that Washington delivers has only hastened the divide between each entity, and has forced people to congregate only at the outlets that will reinforce their beliefs because they believed the other news outlets are only reporting their own agenda.

So while Washington and the media breathlessly dish on the Trump “birther” story, it appears that America outside of the Beltway has tuned out.

It turns out that the folks on Main Street are waiting for news reports on what the candidates will do for them and their communities.

They may be waiting for a long time.

Salena Zito is a political reporter and columnist. Reach her at
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