From penning puff pieces to "pivoting to 'Trump as our kooky uncle'" to glossing over his promotion of white nationalist Steve Bannon, the media is helping to normalize President-elect Donald Trump, critics charged this week.
It was a trend that began during the campaign, FAIR's Adam Johnson wrote on Sunday, and it has only accelerated since the election.
"Oprah Winfrey, in an interview with Entertainment Tonight, said Trump's recent visit to the White House gave her 'hope' and suggested he has been 'humbled' by the experience," Johnson wrote. "The Guardian's Simon Jenkins told his readers to 'calm down' and that Trump wasn't the 'worst thing.' His college, Nouriel Roubini, insisted the Oval Office will 'tame' Trump. People magazine ran a glowing profile of Trump and his wife Melania (though a former People writer accused Trump of sexual assault). The New York Times' Nick Kristof dubiously added that we should 'Grit our teeth and give Trump a chance.' The mainstays—Washington Post, New York Times, and CNN—while frequently critical, are covering Trump's transition as they would any other."
Needless to say, Trump's transition is hardly run-of-the-mill. Less than a week after his election, Trump appointed Steve Bannon as "chief strategist to the president." Or, as Charles Pierce put it at Esquire, "[t]he president-elect went out of his way to hire a white supremacist and anti-Semite to run his policy shop."
The selection of Bannon, despite his integral role in Trump's presidential campaign, is radical when one considers his affiliation with the alt-right movement and espousal of wide-ranging conspiracy theories.
"But if you picked up any copies of the nation's major newspapers, everything seems normal," ThinkProgress wrote, noting major outlets' portrayal of Bannon as an "outsider" and "loyalist."
Columnist Will Bunch, writing at Philly.com, is of a different mind. "Did I mention, folks, that this is #NotNormal?" he said, referencing an increasingly popular Twitter hashtag. "Of course, this probably ensures Bannon on next week's glam cover of People—'Trump's Bomb Thrower!' or some such thing—and a lot of inside-the-Beltway suck-up profiles of Bannon by journalists desperate for access to the corridors of power."
This is what terrifies me—the rapid normalization of things that are completely abnormal to the American way of life. And it's going to come up on us fast. Read up on past leaders with strongman visions similar to those that Trump articulated during his "astonishing journey." It didn't take them four years to accumulate power in an authoritarian manner. Usually less than four months. Especially with a good minister of propagand....excuse me, I mean "senior counselor and strategist."
The normalization stretches beyond Bannon, too.
Media Matters, for example, lambasted "60 Minutes" for its "softball" interview with Trump on Sunday. Interviewer Lesley Stahl's "framing assumes that the Trump who will soon be leading the country is not going to be the same Trump who ran one of the most divisive, undisciplined, and dangerous presidential campaigns in modern American history," wrote Carlos Maza, calling the episode "a master class in normalizing a dangerous demagogue."
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The critique continued:
And those questions about Trump's personal feelings came at the expense of more serious questions about what he actually plans to do as president, especially in light of his shameful positions as a candidate: his pledge to ban Muslims from entering the country or engage in war crimes, for example. They also came at the expense of questions about ongoing controversies, lawsuits, and conflicts of interest surrounding the president-elect, including charges of fraud over Trump University, his promise to sue the many women who accused him of sexual harassment and assault, the anti-Semitic positions of his campaign and reports of the same surrounding his new senior counselor, and Trump’s ties to white nationalists at home and Russian interests abroad.
Is this how major news networks will spend the next four years normalizing Trump's extremism? Treat it like an act, assume he doesn't mean what he says, fixate on the sensationalism of his ascendancy, and play nice in order to maintain access? The same thing happened during the campaign, when journalists spent months predicting a Trump "pivot" that never came.
And John Oliver, in Sunday's season finale of his show "Last Week Tonight," urged against complacency when it comes to the "Klan-backed misogynist internet troll" who will serve as the nation's 45th president.
"It is going to be easy for things to start feeling normal, especially if you are someone who is not directly impacted by his actions," Oliver said. "So keep reminding yourself, this is not normal. He's abnormal. He's a human 'What Is Wrong With This Picture.' So giving him a chance, in the sense of not speaking out immediately against policies he has proposed, is dangerous."