The Presidential Debate: How The Media Got It Wrong. Again.

Last night was a train wreck. I would call it a circus, but that would be an insult to actual clowns and circus workers. It was hard to watch. I think we were all glad when it ended, although most surely frightened by what we had just witnessed.

But let me be clear: I was most alarmed and frustrated by what happened AFTER the debate.

The debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was an uninformative blob of petty attacks and grievance airing. It was a mess. It was a waste of time, and gave voters every reason to be very concerned if not downright scared about the current state and future of this country. And there’s one person to blame: Donald J. Trump.

It was Trump who constantly interrupted the moderator, and Vice President. Trump outright refused to answer questions, and when he did, his answers were word salads doused in lies. It was President Trump who floated fanciful predictions for when COVID-19 vaccines would be available. Trump boasted about crowd size when asked if his rallies were safe. The President mocked Joe Biden, by attacking his intellect, and his family. Trump admitted that he doesn’t want to pay taxes, and dodged a commitment to release his tax returns. Trump also aimed to delegitimize the election itself.

The President of the United States refused to condemn white supremacists.

The President of the United States refused to condemn white supremacists.

Trump in fact, made a call for one white supremacist organization, the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by”. It was a call to arms. He also called for his supporters to go into Democratic run cities, like Philadelphia and intimidate voters. He said “Bad things happen in Philadelphia.”

Donald Trump was an unhinged, ill-tempered, lying, racist bully. He spent 90 minutes abusing the moderator, his opponent, and most importantly, the country.

When it ended, I subjected myself to post-debate media punditry (I know). I resisted taking a trip to the wasteland of white grievance also known as Fox News. I don’t hate myself that much. As I watched CNN, CBS and ABC, my anxiety and stress levels hit a fever pitch. Commentator after commentator talked about the “tone”. Pundits on ABC (including Chris Christie, who worked on the Trump debate prep team), criticized the debate ITSELF and all included. “This was an embarrassment” one commentator suggested. Pundit after pundit, on CNN and ABC suggested over and over that the debate was full of attacks, lies, interruptions, shouting, and bickering. As I listened, I thought to myself, “They still don’t get it”.

This morning was no better. The front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer read “Potshots and Policy: At their first faceoff, Trump and Biden pointed fingers and traded blame.” A CBS News chyron read “Pres. Trump & Biden Clash During Contentious Debate: Shouting, Interruptions, Insults Appeared to Overshadow Candidates’ Policy Discussions”.

Why can’t the news media effectively differentiate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden? Last night’s debate was a disaster because Trump was a disaster and did not deserve to be on that stage. Why is that so hard to say? The incessant desire to find balance between Trump and others by the media is truly baffling. We saw the media do this four years ago with Hillary Clinton. Remember her emails? It’s been four years, and journalists still don’t know how to effectively cover Donald Trump. Stop being a coward. Don’t say the debate was terrible. Donald Trump was terrible. Say that.

Equivocating Trump and Biden is not only frustrating, it’s dangerous. Donald Trump is a threat to the health and wellbeing of this nation and it’s citizens. He cannot condemn white supremacists because he is a white supremacist. He is categorically unfit to serve as President of the United States. Is that so hard?

There is no “both-sides” to this.

The media continues to treat this election like it’s a normal competition. Journalists continue to treat Trump like he’s a normal candidate. This is not normal. Say it with me “faaaassscccciiism”.

The media cannot continue to treat this race like it’s a choice between Trump and Biden. This election is a race between Donald Trump and Democracy itself.

An unhinged and unrestrained Donald Trump refused to condemn white supremacists, and aimed to embolden domestic terrorists in a debate performance littered with lies and personal attacks.

Thats it. Thats the tweet. That’s the headline.

We can’t get this wrong again. We may not have another chance.

Corey Johnson

Twitter: @coreymaurice

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