By almost any standard, President Donald Trump’s rally on Tuesday evening in Milwaukee was a bizarre affair. The president went on a lengthy tirade about lightbulbs, toilets, and showers; touted war crimes; joked about a former president being in hell; and said he’d like to see one of his domestic political foes locked up.
I tried to capture some of the speech’s disconcerting oddness in my write-up of the event. In many ways, the remarks the president made were typical of him. And that provides the media with a challenge: Describing Trump as he really is can make it seem as if a report is “anti-Trump” and that the reporter is trying to make the president look foolish.
But for media outlets that view themselves as above taking sides, attempts to provide a sober, “balanced” look at presidential speeches often end up normalizing things that are decidedly not normal.
A brief report about Trump’s Milwaukee speech that aired Wednesday morning on NPR illustrates this phenomenon. It presented Trump’s at times disjointed ramblings as a normal political speech that “ranged widely,” and characterized it as one in which he “snapped back at Democrats for bringing impeachment proceedings.”
“Trump was taking on Democrats on their own territory,” the reporter said, when in reality Trump heaped abuse on them, for instance, suggesting former Vice President Joe Biden is experiencing memory loss.
On Twitter, Georgetown University public affairs professor Don Moynihan noted that NPR’s report about the rally “mentioned specific topics like Iran and impeachment but carefully omit the insane stuff. This is one way the media strives to present Trump as a normal president.”
NPR is far from alone in struggling to cover Trump.
As I wrote following a previous Trump rally in Wisconsin last April, outlets including CBS, USA Today, the Associated Press, and the Hill failed to so much as mention in their reporting that Trump pushed dozens of lies and incendiary smears during his speech.
The irony is that the media is one of Trump’s foremost targets of abuse. He calls the press the “enemy of the people,” yet the very outlets he demeans regularly bend over backward to cover him in the most favorable possible light.