It hit me while reading the collected letters of Donald J. Trump:
Is there any aspect of this guy’s life we won’t explore?
Or put another way: Is there any limit to the journalistic and public fascination with his life?
As a media critic, I regularly analyze whether news organizations are sufficiently vetting Trump, fact-checking Trump, being too hard or too soft on Trump. And these important questions are tied to the fact that the billionaire is a magnet for ratings and clicks.
But there’s something happening that stretches beyond the usual digging into a candidate’s fitness to be president, a process being conducted on steroids because, despite his fame, Trump is a newcomer to electoral politics.
There is a seemingly insatiable curiosity about his larger-than-life persona and what he is really like. This is true among those who think he would be a great president and those who think he would be a disaster as president. Whether it’s his celebrity, his wealth, his businesses, his kids, his escapades with women, a year’s worth of campaign scrutiny hasn’t diminished the appetite to know more about The Donald.
Now Hillary Clinton has also led a colorful life. She’s been first lady, senator, secretary of State. She’s survived many brushes with scandal and her husband’s affairs. Bits of shorthand—cattle futures, pink press conference, vast right-wing conspiracy, Monica, email, Benghazi—conjure up controversial chapters of her life.
But Hillary has been a public figure for 25 years, the subject of countless articles and segments and books. She is also a more private person. So we already think we know what she’s about, or have concluded that we can’t get much deeper.
Yesterday’s New York Times story found a tender note that Trump once wrote to his wife Ivana: “I adore and love my little darling. I truly believe that you are the greatest.”
And there was this praise for a piece about Poland by the late Times editor Abe Rosenthal: “It is moving; it is sad; it is hopeful (?); it is devastating. It truly captured the strength, the will and the soul of the Polish people.”
In between were notes of gushing praise to Rudy Giuliani (“the greatest mayor that the city’s ever had”) and a scrawled rebuke to a new critic, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: “Now I know why the press always treated you so badly — they couldn’t stand you. The fact is that you don’t have a clue about life and what has to be done to make America great again!”
Looking back, we have waded through a veritable tsunami of pieces about Trump that transcend specific controversies over, say, the allegations against Trump University or his 3,500 lawsuits, according to USA Today. I can recall pieces on Trump’s golf game (and whether he cheats); his jet; his many estates (Forbes, complete with pictures); his wife Melania and a long-lost brother; his rating of women he would bed, with Howard Stern; his former butler, later found to have racist views; his relationship with Megyn Kelly; his beauty pageants, and whether he once posed as his own fictional spokesman.
Here’s some of what came up in a quick Google News search:
New York Daily News: “‘I don't want to sound too much like a chauvinist,’ the 2016 presidential candidate said in a newly resurfaced 1994 ABC interview, before finishing his chauvinistic rant. ‘But when I come home and dinner's not ready, I go through the roof.’”
CNN on “Donald Trump’s Obsession with Himself”:
“The presumptive Republican presidential nominee is aiming to make the entire 2016 campaign about himself.”
And this from a BBC correspondent complaining about the media’s “cravenness”:
“For all the abuse, for all the belittlement, we as reporters show no sign of ending our relationship addiction with Donald Trump.”
Ah, the mental health explanation. But is it just journalists who are addicted, or all of America?
This intense curiosity about Trump World, fueled by the media, could ultimately persuade a majority of voters that he’s not presidential material. But if politics is increasingly becoming entertainment, I suspect many others want to find out what would happen if this reality-show star relocates to the White House.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.