Donald Trump is worried about how reporters cover his campaign.
“It is being reported by virtually everyone, and is a fact, that the media pile on against me is the worst in American political history!” the Republican nominee tweeted last week.
Complaining about news coverage is the default position of most politicians, of course. The whining usually starts closer to Election Day — mid-October, say — but it’s unavoidable, like political commercials during news broadcasts. Trump is reading from a very familiar script.
It’s also pretty ridiculous. Trump received many hours of free airtime on cable news outlets in the primary season, enabling him to capture the GOP nomination. He now has virtually unlimited access to at least one friendly cable news operation. His campaign repeatedly and relentlessly cites mainstream news stories in its press releases.
Mostly, though, his bad-press complaints seem very old, a 20th century reaction in the 21st century.
Candidates unhappy with mainstream coverage now have dozens of other ways to reach voters, through complicated social media strategies, email, alternative websites, ads micro-targeted to specific audiences. It’s never been cheaper or easier for a candidate to reach voters outside normal media channels, and to escape the scrutiny the press provides.
If Trump doesn’t like his coverage, there are plenty of other ways he can try to reach the public.
This trend has caused some grumbling from political reporters, as you might expect. Lots of reporters are upset, for example, at Hillary Clinton’s decision to forgo traditional news conferences for months, relying instead on individual interviews, speeches, tweets and other media channels to communicate with voters.
Some of this is overwrought. No reporter is ever guaranteed access to a candidate.
But make no mistake: by all accounts, Clinton hates reporters just as much as Trump does. Her email scandal, and the obfuscation surrounding the Clinton Foundation, seem rooted in a desire to keep as much information as possible away from the press, and the public, while maintaining the illusion of openness.
Clinton and Trump are quite free to treat reporters with contempt. They wouldn’t be the first politicians to do so, and they won’t be the last.
It seems a bit awkward, though, for any candidate to feverishly criticize traditional media outlets, then mope about what gets published. Maybe that contradiction helps explain Trump’s and Clinton’s deep unpopularity (although the mass media are unpopular, too: in February, 41 percent of those surveyed said they had “hardly any confidence” in the press. By contrast, in May, 64 percent of voters found Clinton and Trump dishonest.)
The media world has changed dramatically since the 1970s, when I started in this business, but the basic task for us is still the same: observe and record a candidate’s statements, then compare them to the record, known facts, previous positions and the opponent. Then publish the results for voters.
For now, at least, there are still reporters engaged in that task, no matter how much the major party candidates hope they can tweet such oversight away.