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Is Obama Right About The Media Treating Trump With Kid Gloves?

20/09/2016 7:11 AM IST | Updated 21/09/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Mike Segar / Reuters
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event with members of The Remembrance Project, a group formed to honor and remember Americans killed by illegal aliens, in Houston, Texas, U.S., September 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Amid a tightening race that saw Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton's national lead over her Republican rival Donald Trump shrinking, President Obama hit the campaign trail to support his party's candidate. He also recently vented his frustration over the US media's coverage of Ms. Clinton's campaign, also suggesting that they were handling Trump with kid gloves. But how true is this?

While the mainstream media may have recently turned up the heat on Clinton, the charge that they gave a free pass to Trump doesn't appear fact-based.

Appearing at a campaigning event for Hillary Clinton on 14 September in Philadelphia, the usually unflappable Obama seemed rather irate as he addressed the present media crew:

"Folks in the back, do you mind if I just vent for a second? You know, you don't grade the presidency on a curve. This is serious business... Donald Trump says stuff every day that used to be considered as disqualifying for being president, and yet because he says it over and over and over again, the press just gives up, they just say, well, yeah, okay."

Now, Mr Trump himself has been accusing the media of being pro-Hillary, so how accurate is Obama's assessment of the situation? Was Trump largely portrayed in a favourable manner by the media despite his racist, xenophobic and sexist pronouncements?

Going by my analysis of the news, while the mainstream media may have recently turned up the heat on Clinton, the charge that they gave a free pass to Mr. Trump doesn't appear fact-based. If anything, you'll see more anti-Trump than anti-Clinton coverage across TV shows, newspaper editorials and social media.

RealClearPolitics.com, which has been covering the presidential race in minute detail and collating stories from different sources, offers at-a-glance evidence that more than 50% of the shared links are anti-Trump. For instance, on 14 September, the featured headlines from various sources included "176 Reasons Donald Trump Shouldn't Be President", "Obama's Campaign Architect Says It's Still Clinton's to Lose, "Hard Truths for Trump's America", "What Trump Supporters Want You to Believe", among others. You will find a roughly similar division of opinion on other days as well. Overall, there seems to be no pro-Trump swing in the media at large.

Mr. Trump may have got some more coverage than his opponent, which might mean something if you belong to the "any publicity is good publicity" school of thought.

Granted, Mr. Trump may have got some more coverage than his opponent, which might mean something if you belong to the "any publicity is good publicity" school of thought. His controversial remarks on Muslims, Mexicans, ISIS, Indians, war heroes, among others, meant that news outlets were scrambling to interview him, to cover his rallies to get his first remarks after a debate... all in the hopes of bagging that "breaking news" sound bite. Trump made for good news and an interested audience. Realizing this, Trump even began dictating terms with the TV channels about debate formats, dates and even choice of hosts!

Free publicity thanks to the media meant that Donald Trump ended up spending less in his primary campaign ($33 million) than any other front-runner in history.

On the other hand, not being a novelty candidate went against Hillary Clinton, and it was negative events such as the e-mail scandal, the secrecy over her health and murky revelations about the Clinton Foundation that revived the media interest in her, while also attracting criticism from across the political divide. Even David Axelrod, former advisor for Obama's campaign and a respected Democratic strategist tweeted this about Hillary's health:

Meanwhile, changes have been afoot in the Trump camp, particularly following his ill-advised remarks about the family of slain Muslim American soldier Humayun Khan. His stance ensured that the Republican candidate was hit with an 8-10 point drop below his opponent in the polls. This turn of events needed a course correction from the Trump camp in the form of new campaign manager and other core team members that resurrected his failing fortunes a little bit.

This election is still Clinton's to lose and if that happens, she herself will be far more responsible than the media for handing victory on a platter to Trump.

A Trump version 2.0 under his new team went to flood-affected Louisiana and distributed food packet. They also visited a Black church in Detroit and Flint, Michigan. Trump also visited Mexico and called its president his friend. All this at a time when Clinton had the worst two-three weeks of her campaign.

Perhaps Mr. Trump is learning to use the art of using the media to his best advantage, although a majority of Americans still think he is unacceptable. Nonetheless, Hillary's approval ratings are also at an all-time low, and she's pretty much at a tie with Trump.

This all looks strange given that Mr. Obama's approval ratings, which are at their highest point ever. Therefore, it follows that it is Clinton herself who is repelling Democratic voters -- this is something Obama probably knows too. Recent polls have suggested that Ms. Clinton's support among Blacks has dropped by 15-20 points in last few weeks, making Obama appear more edgy about a possible Trump presidency as he made an impassioned appeal to the African American voters at Congressional Black Caucus on 18 September, where he said, "I will consider it a personal insult -- an insult to my legacy -- if this community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this election. You want to give me a good sendoff? Go vote." African Americans are not Clinton's only problem. Millennials seems to be as put off by Clinton as they are by Trump, with many preferring other candidates over the two frontrunners, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.

With seven weeks to go for elections, there are problems aplenty for Mrs Clinton and the media alone cannot be blamed for her dwindling fortunes. However, the election is still hers to lose and if that happens, she herself will be far more responsible than the media for handing victory on a platter to Mr. Trump.

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