People debate ferociously about Donald Trump, but one thing is unquestionably true: he's great for ratings. As a consequence of that, he has basically had his way with the media, who have trembled in fear of doing anything that might cause Trump to stop appearing on their network. The result of the networks' craving for ratings (and ad dollars) has resulted in more lapses in journalistic ethics than I can even count in the last nine months.
At the risk of losing Trump from their debate, CNBC shortened their debate by an hour. It turns out, Trump did the whole world a favor by sparing us all an extra hour of that terrible debacle, but it was still shameful to see CNBC kowtow to an alleged subject of their news coverage.
At the risk of losing Trump from their New Hampshire debate, ABC booted the New Hampshire Union-Leader from co-sponsoring with them, simply because the editorial board endorsed Christie (the Union-Leader has always endorsed candidates and has never before been banned from debates for it).
For criticizing Trump, the RNC likewise removed National Review as conservative partner from a debate, even though National Review and its authors have harshly criticized many (or all) of the other Republican candidates at various times during this campaign before their anti-Trump issue.
Because of the publicity Trump draws, every alleged objective media outlet in the entire country has given Trump a massive in-kind contribution of free air time. Alleged conservatives in talk radio and on television have sought to monetize the Trump boom by giving an open liberal favorable coverage, in betrayal of everything they have stood for for years.
And so it seems fitting that Fox News is the first media outlet to stand up to Trump and say, "this far, but no further." After all, it was Fox News who was the first outlet who cravenly bowed to inappropriate pressure from the Trump camp way back in August. As I wrote then about the infamous meeting between Roger Ailes and Donald Trump, in which Ailes unbelievably agreed to a politician's demands to cover him in a certain way, the whole thing reeked of being openly bought by ratings:
Although there are somewhat conflicting accounts of what occurred between Donald Trump and Fox News President Roger Ailes, it is uncontroverted fact by this point that, after the Trump/Megyn Kelly post-debate blowup, Ailes called Trump to … well, say something about the network’s coverage of Trump. What that might have been, we aren’t 100% sure, but the fact that Trump has been given multiple hours of primetime airtime in the last 48 hours, with a softball interviewer, is pretty strong circumstantial evidence of what has been widely alleged in news reports about this matter (and by Trump himself on Twitter) – that Ailes promised to soften Fox News’ coverage of Trump’s campaign in exchange for at least a temporary ceasefire of some sorts.
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For whatever the reason, while some on the right (particularly Trump loyalists) have criticized some Fox News personalities (particularly Megyn Kelly herself for her role in this fracas), almost no one has criticized Fox News as an institution for what seems to be an obviously more egregious error, which is that they have at least given the appearance that they have kowtowed to a political figure they are ostensibly covering in an objective manner. If, in fact, such a conversation happened between Ailes and Trump in which a quid pro quo was offered – Fox News softens their coverage and Trump softens his criticism of the network – that should, on the merits, be fatal to any alleged news organization’s credibility.
All this week, Trump blustered and threatened that if Megyn Kelly wasn't removed as a debate moderator, he would not attend the debate. He had reason to think, based on his past experiences with virtually every other media entity in the country, that he would succeed. Fox News finally called his bluff and told him to take a hike. According to Trump's campaign, Trump will now definitely miss Thursday's debate. Whether this is a bluff or not, we don't know. Certainly Trump could change his mind at the last minute and his dedicated supporters would not care.
But the important thing here is that finally, an alleged news organization has decided that they will not let a subject of their coverage dictate the content thereof. The importance of this step cannot be understated. If Trump can cow the media this successfully when he's just a candidate, imagine what he might attempt if he is elected? I think it's no exaggeration to say that this might be one of the many ways in which Trump genuinely wishes he could emulate Putin.
Thank God that Fox News finally realized that they are strong enough on their own merits that they will continue to be healthy and profitable without the presence of The Donald in one of their debates. At long last, someone in the media realized that their long-term credibility might be more important than a one-time boost in ratings for a debate that will frankly draw pretty well even without Trump's presence.
Trump meant what he said earlier this week. He really does believe that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, and no one would say anything to him about it. For the first time this election season, someone in the media has decided to prove that maybe he really can't. Thank God it finally happened; now we just hope it isn't too little, too late.
Featured image courtesy of the awesome fredontwittur.