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Interviewing Trump is Useless
The media should just stop doing it.
Over the weekend, Kristen Welker of Meet the Press interviewed Trump and treated him like a regular politician rather than an authoritarian fascist insurrectionist who collects indictments like candy and who, oh yes, was found liable for rape. My colleague Aaron Rupar has the depressing details at Public Notice if you can stomach them. “Then as now,” Aaron concludes, “a thirst for ratings persuades legacy media outlets to normalize the depraved, and the desire to appear unbiased results in a warped portrayal of Trump as a normal politician.”
On social media, predictably, Democrats, and all people with a gag reflex, were disgusted. Many wished openly that Mehdi Hasan, or another serious journalist, would sit down with Trump and publicly roast and humiliate him on national television.
I get the impulse; I too would like to see someone—anyone—in media hold Trump accountable in public for just about anything. At this point, though, I’m really skeptical that an interview—even an adversarial interview—is the right venue to do so.
Political media, and political junkies, love the idea of direct live confrontation in which politicians are forced to reveal their own hypocrisy and iniquity despite themselves. And sometimes, rarely, with figures new on the national political stage, like Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2008 or Presidential wannabe Vivek Ramaswamy this year, a sharp, prepared, relentless interviewer can demonstrate that the candidate is incompetent or duplicitous or both, defining them in the public consciousness and righteously damaging their campaign.
But Trump is not new on the public stage. He has been a famous celebrity for decades, and he has been the leader of the Republican party for eight years, give or take. His failings are very well known to anyone who wants to know them. He is on tape calling for China to intervene in US elections. He is on tape telling people to inject bleach to prevent Covid. We have the testimony of multiple witnesses that he expressed support for a mob which wanted to murder his own vice president. He just posted a grotesquely antisemitic diatribe for Rosh Hashanah. And again, he has literally been held liable, in court, for rape.
Trump is, based on irrefutable evidence easily available to anyone who wants to see it, a rapist insurrectionist antisemite who recommends that you inject bleach. What exactly is he going to say in an interview that is going to be more damning than that?
Everyone knows who Trump is. That’s why his approval rating is consistently 14-16 points underwater. Most people think rapist insurrectionist antisemites who want you to inject bleach are bad. Some have convinced themselves he’s good, because they like fascism, or because they are partisans, or (most likely) both. A gotcha interview isn’t going to change their minds.
At best, a few probing questions might make Trump mildly annoyed for an hour or so. At worst, he’ll smear the questioner, and give his fascist dittoheads another target on whom to practice stochastic terrorism.
As many people (including Aaron) have noted, Trump isn’t a normal candidate. He’s a lying fascist who wants to destroy the country and make it over in his ugly orange image. The media doesn’t need to conduct more hard hitting interviews. It needs to stop treating Trump like a normal candidate.
Whenever you mention his name, don’t say, “former President Trump.” Say, “insurrectionist and rapist candidate Donald Trump.” Don’t interview him. Don’t interview his campaign flunkies or flaks. Don’t interview people who supported him during the insurrection. Don’t show his speeches. You have to cover him—he’s the leading Republican nominee for president. But you don’t have to treat him as legitimate, and you don’t have to give him a platform of any kind—not even to “debate.” Stop acting as if the normal mechanisms of media can meaningfully hold him accountable, when we’ve had eight years to prove they won’t.
The justice system failed to hold Trump accountable for eight years, too, obeying the usual norms of impunity for presidents, former presidents, and presidential candidates. Finally, slowly, sluggishly, prosecutors and judges are defying business as usual and making some attempt to reign him in. The media should follow suit. If it doesn’t, it may well be complicit, again, in the elevation of a fascist to the most powerful position in the world. If that happens, it seems unlikely the media will get a third chance to get it right.
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