Let’s imagine, in an alternative universe, that the media were as sympathetic to Donald Trump as they were to Barack Obama right after his election.
The coverage might look something like this:
President-elect Trump has shown himself to be surprisingly inclusive in reaching out to former rivals who bitterly criticized him, including Mitt Romney, who called him a “fraud,” Nikki Haley, who questioned his disavowal of the KKK, and Rick Perry, who dubbed him a “cancer on conservatism.”
President-elect Trump has called a temporary truce in his rhetorical war on the media, even venturing to the much-derided New York Times and describing the newspaper as a “jewel.”
President-elect Trump has shown striking flexibility in rethinking some of campaign promises, abandoning his support for waterboarding, declaring an open mind on climate change and walking away from overheated threats to have Hillary Clinton prosecuted. He also agreed to keep two key parts of ObamaCare.
Even before taking the oath, he appears to be growing into the job.
Now of course such positive assessments would have to be balanced with more critical ones. One man’s post-election evolution is another man’s blatant flip-flop. A Politico headline: “15 Trump Flip-Flops in 15 Days.”
But the positive analyses are, shall we say, muted.
Let’s face it, almost no one in the media expected Trump to win, and few are giving him the benefit of the doubt.
I never believed that Trump, if he won, would seek a special prosecutor after Clinton had already been cleared by the FBI. It would look like he was seeking revenge against a rival at a time when he’d have far bigger problems to tackle.
There has been some legitimate focus on disappointment on the right after all those “Lock Her Up” rallies. Breitbart, Steve Bannon’s former outfit, ran a “Broken Promise” headline. But more common are a bunch of Should-Hillary-Be-Jailed-Or-Not cable segments.
Similarly, Trump’s evolving views on some issues have either been played down or drawn left-handed compliments, as in this column by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria:
“One might wonder why he didn’t have that conversation during the campaign or why he pounded home the opposite views on all these topics for a year and a half. But at this point, it doesn’t matter. Trump is president-elect. We should all hope that he flip-flops some more.” The liberal Zakaria had earlier called Trump a “cancer on American democracy.”
From the right, Trump critic Kathleen Parker goes off on “Donald Trump’s many campaign lies. What else can one call the promises that he now treats as alien concepts?” Though she admits she’s happier with his new positions.
As for Trump trying to bring establishment Republicans into his tent, the press gave him some credit on Romney for an hour or two. But now the coverage is all about whether Romney critics and Rudy Giuliani fans can derail his nomination as secretary of State. That’s a legitimate story, and the best horse race we have at the moment. But it’s still incredible that Mitt is even in the running.
And it’s equally amazing that Nikki Haley, who was so critical of Trump during the campaign, was tapped as U.N. ambassador.
Other big media narratives at the moment:
Should Trump divest himself of his real estate empire to avoid conflicts of interest? That’s a thorny question, and some of his properties were promoted, rather than hidden, during the campaign. But the truth is it would take years to sell off his hotels and golf courses, even if he wanted to. Still, the New York Times yesterday ran a zillion-word lead story on the subject.
Should Jared Kushner play a role in his administration? There was much teeth-gnashing about whether Trump tapping his son-in-law would violate a nepotism law, but nothing prevents the president-elect from using him in an informal role. There are questions about his complete lack of government or diplomatic experience, but Kushner did help manage a winning presidential campaign.
Should there be a recount in Wisconsin (and Michigan and Pennsylvania)? Trump has ripped Jill Stein’s fundraising as a “scam” and chided the Clinton campaign for cooperating, even though she didn’t seek the recount and claims no evidence of foul play. But the story is somewhat overplayed because it won’t change who presides over the inauguration in January.
I am all for aggressive coverage of new presidents. The relationship between the media and an incoming leader of the free world should always be adversarial. But anyone who thinks Trump is being covered the way President-elect Obama was has a very short memory.
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.