Forfeiting journalistic and social morality, news outlets have turned their frantic coverage of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign into a poisonous fetish, and contributed to the progress of the most distasteful kind clickbait–Trump’s narratives of white supremacy.
Take, for example, chairman of CBS, Les Moonves, speaking on ad revenue generated from Trump’s presidential campaign:
“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS”…
“I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry, It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”
“I’m not taking sides. I’m just saying, for us, economically, Donald’s place in this election is a good thing.”
The more one reads this, the more apparent Moonves indifference to narratives of white supremacy become. Here, one must scrutinize the use of the pronoun “it” in Moonves’ comments, which he uses as a substitute for “Trump’s campaign”–a campaign fueled by racism and xenophobia.
In an effort to keep an arm’s distance away from Trump’s campaign (while keeping in close enough proximity to take the money “it” generates), Moonves replaces “a presidential campaign built on the fear of a black president, and driven by bigotry” with “it”.
The attempt to “not take sides”, or, in other words, take a passive stance on bigotry for an exchange of clicks, is one of the ways the media’s propagation of Trump and his cult of voters began.
It started in 2011 when the media excessively focused on debunking the asinine beliefs of the so-called “birther movement.” In an attempt to discredit the cult of those who believed President Obama is not a citizen of the United States, news outlets provided catcalls to white supremacists and promoted the birther champion–the harbinger of vitriol: Donald Trump.
Donald Trump’s embrace with narratives of white supremacy became a marketable spectacle, and those of us who clicked on the plethora of sensational news related to his racist comments created a voyeuristic atmosphere around his populist, bigoted rhetoric, and elevated Trump’s hate speech to a clickable commodity.
Even though the majority of the press was critical of birthers and Trump, the media coverage publicized and legitimized an age-old narrative of white supremacy: because black Americans were not meant to inherit American citizenship (see Americanness) by birth, their citizenship, and their loyalty to it, must be proved to, and approved by white Americans..
The media allowed Donald Trump to champion this anthem of white supremacy, without questioning how such a position disqualifies him for the Oval Office, or how the birther narrative permeates within white supremacy groups. This lack of critique provided credibility to the birther conspiracy and Donald Trump.
Members of the media deemed Trump and the birthers as “crazy,” “wacko,” and “fringe,” but this was a critical mistake, and couldn’t be further from the reality. White supremacy is not synonymous with “fringe belief.” In a country that has historically allowed the systematic destruction of black bodies with impunity since America’s inception, white supremacy isn’t a fringe belief, it is a tradition; and, it’s practitioners and prophets should be taken at their word.
Instead of blackballing Trump, his presidential campaigns, and the birthers, the media acted as if the birthers stale, paranoia beliefs were novel and newsworthy. The coverage awarded the birthers and Trump with a platform to defend their beliefs and directed internet traffic to Trump’s fascist ideology.
During a 2011 interview with Fox and Friends, Trump was allowed to justify the birther conspiracy theory, and talk about how the term “birther” is unfair to the birthers. He was never asked to provide any factual evidence for his claims or asked how the inquiry to Obama’s birth certificate perpetuates racism. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6rGqzj6jjI
In a 2011 interview with ABC news, Ashleigh Banfield allowed Trump to suggest that the birthers had been unfairly criticized for their skepticism of Obama’s citizenship. Banfield introduced the segment into Obama’s citizenship as “that controversial question: does he [Trump] believe Barack Obama was born in the U.S.A?”
The reason why I have a little doubt–just a little–is because he grew up and nobody knew him. You know? When you interview people, if ever I got the nomination, if I ever decide to run, you may go back and interview people from my kindergarten. They’ll remember me. Nobody ever comes forward. Nobody knows who he his until later in his life. It’s very strange. The whole thing is very strange.
At the end of the video Banfield stated, “I’m drinking the Kool-Aid [of a trump presidential campaign]”, and like Fox and Friends, she, too, never asked Trump how that “controversial question” reflects patterns of white supremacist thinking.
The media’s failure to address white supremacy in 2011 has paid off for Trump in 2016. This would be surprising, except that the media has continually neglected to explicitly confront Donald Trump about his white supremacist narratives, has provided favors to Trump and his base by comparing him to Hilter (as if Hitler is a real turnoff for white supremacist), and has covered his statements and not the emptiness of his policies.
There were well intended attempts to get Donald Trump to disavow an endorsement from former KKK Grand Wizard, David Duke, however the media did not realize that denouncing an endorsement from a white supremacist is different from disavowing white supremacy. When Trump was asked by NBC and ABC news if he disavowed the KKK, it was easy for Donald Trump to say, “Yes, I disavow David Duke and the KKK,” because no one followed his denouncement by asking Trump if he would disavow white supremacist narratives like banning Muslims, blaming crime on blacks and hispanics, and building a wall to keep Mexicans out of America.
Even George Stephanopoulos, who has done a good job of focusing on Trump’s policies, has neglected to connect the dots between Donald Trump and narratives of white supremacy. Stephanopoulos has continually asked Trump how he will ban Muslims, and how he will build a wall to keep Mexicans from entering the U.S., but the questioning implies that Trump’s positions on Muslims and Mexicans is deserving of an explanation.
This led Trump to having the best of both worlds: please the public by disavowing the KKK and David Duke, but also pleasing his base by not having to disavow David Duke or KKK positions. Trump was allowed to pledge allegiance to doctrines of white supremacy, so long as he doesn’t fly the colors of its flag.
In Stephanopoulos’ defence, Trump’s idiotic statements have garnered so much attention that journalist have to ask Trump about how he will make xenophobic fantasies of white supremacists come to fruition.
Of course all of this is hindsight, but that does not mean that the rise of Donald Trump can’t teach the media a valuable lesson on the consequences of treating bigotry like a commodity–even if the intent is to point out its absurdity.
Had this been the beginning of the 2016 primaries or 2011, I would say to members of the media: if you truly want to stop Donald Trump, stop talking about him; but, unfortunately, we have entered a point of no return.
This is not to imply the media or the American people should deny Trump his free speech, but the media and the American people should deny Donald Trump and his narratives of white supremacy free promotion.
As consumers of media, it’s time to change the channel; it’s time to turn the dial, and put our clicks where our morals are: we can decline to circulate Trump’s hate speech, we can discuss the lack of details in his policies, and help the public realize that Donald Trump has absolutely no experience that qualifies him for Oval Office.