Lately, the presidential race has seemed a bit like an outrageous dare. It’s as if someone bet Donald Trump that he couldn’t become president while saying the most loathsome things possible; and someone else dared Hillary Clinton to snub the very people she needs to vote for her; and somebody else dared the media to let the media get away with it.
So far, everyone’s winning that dare… everyone, that is, except America.
The candidates have become almost completely unmoored from reality, throwing traditional political journalism into chaos. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the art form known as the press conference.
In the last week, Trump has discovered a fantastic efficiency in press conferences. They’re a great place to destroy a whole bunch of reporters all at once. That’s important for him, since reporters are the one group most likely to point out Trump’s lies.
For example, the Washington Post has been digging around and asking difficult question about Trump’s supposed donations to veterans. You might remember when he bailed on a debate and held a rally of his own, promising to donate millions to charity. Well, it turns out those donations didn’t exactly happen as Trump suggested they would (surprise!) and now journalists have been doing their best to uncover the facts.
Trump had a brilliant solution to that: He assembled a whole bunch of reporters at a press conference and blasted them, one by one, with insults and innuendo. Voters tend to prefer style over substance, and Trump’s performance is a whole lot more exciting than the actual facts of the donations. It was a highly effective way to neutralize a group that might have otherwise been dangerous liabilities. Not only that, but Trump now banned Washington Post reporters from covering his campaign rallies.
Hillary, in contrast, has simply stopped holding press conferences. It’s been nearly a year since she had one, and when asked when she might respond to reporter Q&As, she said simply “many many times.” Uh, okay.
Bernie’s been holding press conferences too, except not really. He’s calling them press conferences, but he’s not taking questions. So it’s really just a speech.
Voters, not too surprisingly, are throwing up their hands in exasperation with all of this — particularly young voters, who have never been particularly interested in the sausage-making of politics. Polling shows that young voters hate the candidates and don’t want to hear about Hillary or Donald, but they DO have passionate beliefs about particular issues.
MTV is responding to that trend with their coverage of the election with a new campaign called “Elect This.” Candidates are invisible in MTV’s coverage (quite a change from the 90s, when the network coached a woman in the audience to ask Bill Clinton about his underwear).
And of course, this coverage ignores the long-shot third-party candidates, such as Gary Johnson of the Libertarian party. He was selected as nominee last month in a bizarre ceremony that included one candidate stripping down to a thong.
“I’m sorry, that was a dare,” he said. Of course. That’s the only possible explanation for how this election cycle has gone.
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