In one of his final speeches of the presidential campaign, Donald Trump went after President Barack Obama over his treatment of a Trump supporter at a rally in Fayetteville, N.C. Speaking in Hershey, Pennsylvania, on Friday, the Republican candidate declared:
Obama today spoke in front of a much smaller crowd than this, by the way, and there was a protester. And a protester that likes us…. You saw it today on television, right? He was talking to the protester — screaming at him, really screaming at him. By the way, if I spoke the way Obama spoke to that protester, they would say, “He became unhinged! He became —” You have to go back and look and study. And see what happened…. He spent so much time screaming at this protester and, frankly, it was a disgrace.
It really is worth going back and listening and studying. If you watch the video, here’s what Obama actually said when people started booing a man with a Trump sign at a campaign rally:
Hey! Listen up! I told you to be focused, and you’re not focused right now! Listen to what I’m saying. Hold up. Hold up! Hold up! Hold up! Everybody sit down, and be quiet for a second. You’ve got an older gentleman who is supporting his candidate. He’s not doing nothing. You don’t have to worry about him …
First of all, we live in a country that respects free speech. Second of all, it looks like maybe he might have served in our military, and we ought to respect that. Third of all, he was elderly — and we’ve got to respect our elders.
And fourth of all, don’t boo. Vote.
Now, if we live in a world where descriptions can be true or false, Trump’s account is clearly false. He’s describing the Obama rally as something he’s seen himself, so it’s fair to say that he’s lying about what the president did. (If he actually perceived Obama “really screaming” at a protester, that signifies a break from reality that is if anything more alarming.) Trump didn’t misspeak; he repeated the claim at other events, talking in Tampa of Obama “screaming and screaming and screaming,” for instance.
So a major-party presidential candidate on the verge of the election repeatedly tells a far-fetched and easily checkable lie about the current president, calling a thing that didn’t happen “a disgrace.” In the 2016 presidential campaign, where political journalists have obsessively covered every utterance of Trump, this surely qualifies as important news the electorate should know about, right?
Apparently not. A search of major US newspapers in the Nexis news database turns up not a single print-edition news story since Friday referencing Trump, Obama and “screaming.” Nor does a search of transcripts on Nexis turn up any on-air national stories on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, NPR, Fox, CNN or MSNBC. (There is some delay on stories on Nexis—but two days should generally do it.) CNN did carry Trump’s speech live, according to transcripts, though Anderson Cooper interrupted the relevant passage to make a comment about Jay-Z, so you couldn’t really follow what Trump was saying.
It’s not that there was no coverage of Trump’s lie; overseas outlets, for one, recognized it as a significant story. (The London Independent‘s headline: “Donald Trump Misrepresents Barack Obama’s ‘Screaming’ Response to Protester; Mr. Trump’s Version of Events Appears to Differ Significantly From Reality.”)
Then there were online “factchecks” from outlets like ABC (11/4/16), NBC (11/4/16) and CNN (11/5/16). There’s no indication that these ever appeared on the networks’ on-air news shows; often they bore a label like “fact check” or “reality check,” as if comparing a candidate’s statement to reality were a specialized journalistic function, and not something to be done in the course of ordinary reporting.
Of course, it was covered on several new media outlets, many with a progressive or Democratic orientation, like Think Progress (11/5/16), Vox (11/5/16), Huffington Post (11/5/16) or AlterNet (11/5/16). Because a presidential candidate putting forth documentable lies about the person he hopes will be his predecessor is news that’s chiefly of interest to partisans, apparently.
If Trump defies the odds and wins the election on Tuesday, corporate media coverage like this will be a large part of the explanation.