The Media Still Don’t Get Trump

From Wall Street Journal

The Media Still Don’t Get Trump

The public doesn’t care about what obsesses pundits—and the president-elect knows it.

By JASON L. RILEY
Updated Dec. 13, 2016 7:25 p.m. ET

Republican pols and their supporters are accustomed to biased media coverage from a Washington press corps dominated by liberals, but there’s reason to believe that Donald Trump could have it worse than his GOP predecessors.

We are told that Mr. Trump’s cabinet picks pose threats to the country ranging from merely grave to existential. Businessman Andy Puzder is unacceptable as labor secretary because he believes minimum-wage hikes hurt job growth. Never mind that McDonald’s is currently replacing human cashiers with automated kiosks to counteract the unions’ nationwide push for a $15 per hour minimum.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, the president-elect’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, is branded a climate-change “denier” for writing that scientists “continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.” Liberals often resort to name-calling to shut down serious policy debates. Only a racist would criticize affirmative action, and only a homophobe would oppose same-sex marriage, right? But now we’ve reached a point where questioning the impact of something is no different from denying that it exists.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, the nominee for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is knocked for having no expertise in housing policy or running a government agency, which is apparently more difficult than brain surgery. While Elaine Chao, a George W. Bush administration veteran who’s been tapped to run the Transportation Department, is accused of being an “insider”—i.e., having too much experience in government. Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, is unfit for secretary of state because his company does business with Russia. The same people who questioned the president-elect’s knowledge of foreign affairs during the campaign now tell us that he’s surrounding himself with too much military brass. Well, make up your mind.

Clearly, Mr. Trump can’t win, and the best way forward for him may be to not even try. The media establishment’s problems with the incoming president go deeper than ideology. The press still isn’t over the fact that a nonpolitician won the White House. The Trump victory knocked veteran journalists off their stride. Most of the political know-it-alls who type and talk for a living misread the candidates and the public mood, and we’re still coming to grips with that. Hillary Clinton promised to put the coal industry out of business and lost. Why should it shock or outrage anyone that Mr. Trump is appointing cabinet members who support the use of fossil fuels?

The current hubbub over Mr. Trump’s financial conflicts of interest resembles the debate over his tax returns during the campaign. The media was obsessed with getting Mr. Trump to make his returns public, but voters didn’t care. Reporters are right to demand transparency when it comes to Mr. Trump’s business dealings, and if he wants to maintain the trust of voters and not waste time warding off congressional investigations for the next four years, he’ll be open about conflicts of interest and work to avoid them.

But calls for Mr. Trump to sell off his hotel and real estate businesses to avoid conflicts set a bad precedent and discourage capable people who are not professional politicians from seeking elected office. Mr. Trump won in part due to the country’s distrust and disappointment in traditional politicians, yet the media continue to hammer him for not behaving like one.

There’s no shortage of legitimate criticism of the president-elect. The tariff threats are as problematic as interference with Carrier’s business model or the new administration’s talk of another Obama-style Keynesian stimulus package. Evidence that Russia determined the outcome of the election exists only in the imagination of Democrats, but foreign cyberattacks are a real and growing threat, and Mr. Trump ought to take them more seriously than he has in recent interviews. His foolish comments about women, minorities and immigrants didn’t prevent him from getting elected, but that doesn’t make them any less inappropriate.
At some point, Beltway journalists may become interested in closing the gap between their own concerns and priorities and those of their audience, but the current focus on recounts and fake news suggests that they aren’t there yet. Mr. Trump makes it clearer every day, if not with every tweet, that he has zero interest in becoming the kind of workaday politician whom journalists would prefer to cover. So long as this standoff continues, denizens of the Fourth Estate will be catering mostly to each other and the political elites.

“Most of Washington punditry,” the late Christopher Hitchens once said, is “private letters, written to other pundits, appearing in public space.” That’s never been as true as it has since Donald Trump was elected. Voters deserve better.

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