Michael Goodwin: Midterm elections have me hoping for this shocking miracle (that will be good for all of us)
With Tuesday’s election touted as the most important in modern memory, morning-after scenarios run the gamut of possibilities. President Trump will be vindicated by a GOP sweep, weakened by a split decision or endangered if Democrats win both houses of Congress.
Yet none of those outcomes will necessarily improve the hostile political climate, and it’s more likely the rage and violence will grow, whatever the results. Thus, America will wake up Wednesday facing more of the same or worse.
It’s a disheartening prospect, which is why I’m hoping for something of a miracle. The one I have in mind would be good for all Americans, regardless of political allegiance.
It is that The New York Times temper its jihad against Trump and adopt a more balanced coverage in its news pages. Cue the laughter, but there are sound reasons for the paper to change course.
First, imagine the impact. If the Times, the leader of the media resistance, reverted to its traditional standards of fairness, the national press corps would follow, just as they followed the Gray Lady in unleashing vitriol against Trump.
In a heartbeat, the political temperature would cool if this president were treated with the same respect and fairness accorded his predecessor. That, in turn, would put the onus on Trump to use more care and precision instead of just calling “fake news the enemy of the people.”
My hope for change hangs on several recent events. Admittedly, the threads are slim, but here they are.
A piece last week by Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg had elements of a reconsideration embedded in its usual criticism. Under the headline, “Trump’s Attacks on the News Media are Working,” he conceded that reporters’ intense focus on every tweet and word is a failure and said, “The president has succeeded in casting journalists as the prim foils on his never-ending reality show.”
In a lament over the inability to counter the president’s strategy, Rutenberg concluded by writing: “At this rate, a solution may come sometime in Mr. Trump’s third term.”
The obvious partisanship aside, the significance of the column is that Rutenberg often voices the thinking of Times brass. Recall that his column in August of 2016 signaled the collapse of standards when he said Trump was too dangerous to be president.
Weeks later, top editor Dean Baquet told an interviewer that Rutenberg’s column “nailed” his own thinking, adding that Trump “challenged our language,” and “will have changed journalism.”
Regarding the struggle for fairness, Baquet said “Trump has ended that struggle … We now say stuff. We fact-check him. We write it more powerfully that [what he says is] false.”
About that time, virtually every news article became an anti-Trump opinion and the paper started calling him a “liar,” an unprecedented assumption about motive and intent. To my knowledge, no other politician, criminal or foreign leader has been so labeled, certainly not Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, or even Vladimir Putin.
Now, more than two years later, the paper seems to be looking for a white flag — or should be. The war against Trump was a historic mistake that has failed and backfired — while damaging the nation.
A story from Politico about its latest poll put it this way: A majority of voters think Trump “has done more to divide the country than unite it since he took office — but that the national news media are even worse.”
The survey found that 30 percent of respondents said Trump is doing more to unite the country, compared with 56 percent who said he is dividing it. But 64 percent said the media was dividing the country, with just 17 percent crediting the press with uniting America.
In a Washington Post/ABC poll, the public blamed the media and Trump almost equally for sparking political violence.
Meanwhile, studies show consistently that 90 percent of news coverage of Trump is negative. In effect, the media’s onslaught has damaged Trump, but also their own credibility and helped to polarize America.
These findings are a damning indictment of everyone involved. If violence grows out of extremely bitter divisions — and most people believe it does — then the media and the Democrats, along with Trump, have a responsibility to tone it down.
To be clear, this is not a plea for sweet harmony or a wish to silence legitimate differences. Disagreements are inevitable and even desirable under our republic, but there must be universal agreement that we’ve gone too far.
Something has to give, because the nation has reached a dangerous stalemate, with allegiances split perfectly down the middle. The synagogue slaughter in Pittsburgh should serve as a lesson to both sides about the unintended consequences.
The warning signs are flashing — ignoring them is not an option.