Donald Trump is throwing out all the rules in this presidential campaign. But some journalists are doing the same thing.
Leave aside the volume of Trump coverage, which drowns out most of the other candidates. Leave aside the pundits on the right and left who regularly pound Trump and spent months mocking and minimizing his chances.
What’s remarkable is the way that self-described straight journalists have concluded that Trump is such a menace to society that they must abandon their ordinary practices and call him out.
Now I understand that emotions are running high in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. And that Trump ratcheted things up by proposing to bar all Muslims from entering the country for some unspecified period of time. And that this has been a political earthquake, uniting Dick Cheney and Hillary Clinton in harsh criticism of the Republican front-runner and even drawing condemnation from some European leaders.
But when we have Tom Brokaw stepping out of his anchor emeritus role to rip Trump, something has changed.
On “NBC Nightly News,” Brokaw compared Trump to such demagogues of the past as Joe McCarthy—precisely as a New York Times news story did in analyzing Trump’s “dark” language about terrorism.
“Trump’s statement, even in this season of extremes, is a dangerous proposal that overrides history, the law and the foundation of America itself,” Brokaw said. He added that “defeating ISIS will be long, hard and expensive, perhaps even more so now because ISIS is likely to use Donald Trump’s statements as a recruiting tool.”
Brokaw is entitled to say what he wants at this point in his career—but he must have really felt that he was taking on a mission by stepping out of his nonpartisan role.
The same goes for NBC’s Richard Engel, whose Middle East expertise is such that George W. Bush once privately sought his advice on Iraq. And yet Engel, talking to liberal host Rachel Maddow, called Trump’s proposal “a black spot on our collective foreign policy and our conscience” that “just feeds into the ISIS narrative.” He called it “demagoguery” and “really not the country that I know.”
Now comes Buzzfeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith, with a memo to his staff about Trump. Smith is a former Politico reporter and not a partisan guy.
He told his staff in a memo that the popular website’s policy is to ask staffers not to be “political partisans” in social media.
But when it comes to Trump, Smith said, it is “entirely fair to call him a mendacious racist, as the politics team and others here have reported clearly and aggressively: He’s out there saying things that are false, and running an overtly anti-Muslim campaign. BuzzFeed News’s reporting is rooted in facts, not opinion; these are facts.”
Trump’s a racist: that’s a fact. Not that people have accused him of being racist, not that his comments about Muslims appear racist. That is the mindset of much of today’s media.
Smith did add that it’s not fair to tar all Republicans with the same brush, as some have disagreed with Trump.
His memo reminded me of the Daily Beast’s executive editor, who tweeted that Trump is a racist and neo-fascist and called on people to boycott his businesses for that reason. His boss had no problem with that.
In the opinionated precincts of the media, Trump is Public Enemy No. 1. We see this in the New York Daily News cover depicting him as chopping off the Statue of Liberty’s head.
The Washington Post opinion pages have launched a multi-pronged attack. Columnist Ruth Marcus:
“Donald Trump has crossed an uncrossable line of bigotry and xenophobia. The Republican front-runner presents a clearer, more present danger to U.S. interests than the supposedly threatening Muslims he seeks to exclude.”
Columnist Dana Milbank compared Trump to Mussolini.
From the right, columnist Kathleen Parker called Trump “the most dangerous person to emerge on the U.S. political scene in decades. As president, he would be the most dangerous man on the planet.”
And the Post’s editorial page said he “gains traction by spewing hatred, bigotry and rage. Criticizing Mr. Trump is no longer sufficient. It is time to say clearly he is anathema to the Republican Party, and to the nation.”
These are people paid for their views, and Trump isn’t reticent about hitting back against media outlets that slam him. Still, I would say the media’s war on Trump has now gone nuclear. His detractors would undoubtedly say that he went nuclear first.
But if even some of its straightforward practitioners are trying to stop Trump from winning the Republican nomination, the news business could also wind up as collateral damage.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.