In July, The Huffington Post took the unusual step of announcing that, henceforth, it would classify Donald Trump coverge in its “Entertainment” category, a move emblematic of the broader political press’ mindset back then. But after months of increasingly alarming rhetoric came to a head on Monday, when Trump called for a ban on Muslim travel to the US, Arianna Huffington decided to backpedal.
“We are no longer entertained,” read the headline atop her explanation. Trump’s campaign, Huffington added, has become “an ugly and dangerous force in American politics.”
It seems much of the press corps rethought its plans to cover the election over the past 48 hours.
The media’s months-long treatment of Trump’s incendiary comments as shock entertainment has turned openly adversarial. The flamboyant mogul is now being covered as a threat to American democracy as we know it, and if this week is any indication, campaign coverage could be different from here on out.
“Trump’s statement, even in this season of extremes, is a dangerous proposal that overrides history, the law, and the foundation of America itself,” NBC’s Tom Brokaw said during an on-air editorial Tuesday.
The malice of Trump’s proposal amplifies that of previous arguments. Indeed, much of his campaign trail schtick is built upon similarly xenophobic fear-mongering. What seems to have provoked journalists to make a stronger stand in this particular instance is Trump’s willingness to threaten a constitutional right. Terrorism poses a clear threat, but freedom of religion is foundational to American values.
“It seems as though you’re acting out of fear—not making us look strong—and rejecting what America is all about,” CNN’s Chris Cuomo said during a contentious interview with Trump Tuesday. “I don’t understand how you can see banning an entire religion as a way of saying anything other than, ‘We are what ISIS says we are. We want a war against Islam. That’s what America is.’ And as you know—or you should know—that is not what America is, Mr. Trump.”
Trump phobia spread to international media as well. The Guardian pleaded in an editorial Tuesday that “America can do better than this.” Stateside, newspapers big and small editorialized with some variation of the same argument. Both dailies in Detroit, whose metro area is home to the nation’s largest Arab-American population, condemned Trump’s bigotry. The Detroit Free Press blared its editorial from the front page.
“So when Donald Trump says America should close its borders to Muslim immigrants, he’s not just attacking a fundamental American strength,” the paper’s editorial board wrote. “He’s attacking us—our community, our neighbors, the rich, diverse fabric that makes up southeast Michigan.”
Of course, it’s unclear whether the mainstream media’s aggression toward Trump on this point will have any effect on his standing in the Republican field. Past outlandish comments have not caused him to fall in the polls.
Two-thirds of likely GOP primary voters surveyed in a Bloomberg Politics/Purple Strategies poll this week said they support Trump’s proposal. More than half of Trump-supporting respondents in a Public Policy Polling survey of North Carolina want the government to shut down mosques around the country.
“It’s hard to imagine Donald Trump’s newest round of comments about Muslims hurting him, at least in a state with a Republican electorate as conservative as North Carolina’s,” Dean Debnam, the polling firm’s president, said in a statement Tuesday. “Few of his supporters even think the practice of Islam should currently be legal, much less that more Muslims should be allowed to enter the country.”
It can only be a good thing that the media finally seems primed to take Trump seriously. It’s the public’s decision whether a man with such values should be sent to the oval office.
David Uberti is a CJR staff writer and senior Delacorte fellow. Follow him on Twitter @DavidUberti.