Take it from me – if you want an unvarnished look at how viciously defensive but simultaneously clueless to the point of self-parody America’s bipartisan political establishment has become in this Season of Trump, nothing provides it better than the Sunday morning news talk shows and their panels of media and campaign experts. And no single episode of any of these programs has revealed this toxic combination better than the final 2015 installment of Meet the Press.
The subject of course was Donald Trump’s still-rising support according to all major national polls and his continuing strength in surveys taken in early primary states. Who better to get the conversation in question off on a slanderous note than the substitute host, NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell – who in a just world would be identified with an on-screen caption reading something like, “My husband is Alan Greenspan and we still get invited to all the A-list Washington parties even though he nearly destroyed the world economy as Fed chairman.”
Within a few moments, Mitchell channeled this Washington media roundtable segment toward what’s obviously the participants’ prime concern: Trump’s animosity toward journalists. After New York Times Pentagon reporter Helene Cooper upbraided all the candidates for thoughtless foreign policy positions, Mitchell jumped in by cracking, “And of course we are so disliked, we the media, collectively, are so disliked–” The desired effect was achieved – all the panelists chortled.
After playing a clip of journalist-baiting by the Republican front-runner, Mitchell queried the panel, “Have you ever seen Donald Trump and the Drunk Uncle on Saturday Night Live Weekend Update together? That was a pretty good imitation. But Michael Gerson, to the serious point of the level of invective, I haven’t seen this, frankly, since the George Wallace campaign where attacks on the media at rallies really were one of the signature effects.”
Some predictable anti-Trump invective followed from Gerson, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush rewarded by the Washington Post with a choice columnist slot – no doubt because that administration had excelled on both foreign and domestic fronts, and because Bush himself gave such memorable orations.
But then Mitchell turned to Yahoo News politics columnist Matt Bai in what initially and astonishingly seemed like a moment of contrition: “But of course it is working and, Matt Bai, you wrote memorably this week why. That we are somewhat to blame. In fact you wrote, ‘It’s clear now that Trump’s enduring popularity is in no small part a reflection of an acid disdain for us. This is a simmering reaction to smugness and shallowness in the media, a parade of glib punditry unmoored to any sense of history or personal experience. It’s about our love of gaffes and scandals, real or imagined, and our rigid enforcement of the politically correct.’ Discuss.”
Yet more chortling followed. Including from Bai himself. Who then returned to Earnest Mode and wound up claiming that the greatest sin committed by his own sophomoric, out-of-touch profession was in fact creating much of the Trump phenomenon itself. As Bai explained (after advertising what an act of political courage he has committed):
“We literally treat our candidates as contestants on a game show to be voted off or vote on. And I think there’s a cost for that and the cost is that you set up a platform where someone like a Donald Trump can come and exploit it very handily, because he is the perfect reality show candidate. And I think at this point there is this symbiosis with the media and Trump. I think at this point he has to be covered to the extent that he is because he is clearly leading, late in the campaign in the polls. But there’s a long period in this campaign where I think we exaggerated his support because it brought ratings and it brought clicks and it was the great shiny story of the campaign.”
Concluded Bai. “And I think we did a great disservice to the country.”
But don’t think that even this penultimate wea culpa produced even a flicker of remorse or even reflection in the studio. The cameras in fact revealingly cut to another panelist, Amy Walter, who edits a prominent (insiders’) political newsletter. And who was of course in full smirk. Whereupon Mitchell, facing a commercial break, announced, “Let’s leave that here for a moment.” And never returned.