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What If Donald Trump Were Covered Like Hillary Clinton?

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks with members of the media, Monday, Sept. 5, 2016, aboard his campaign plane, while flying over Ohio. (Evan Vucci/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks with members of the media, Monday, Sept. 5, 2016, aboard his campaign plane, while flying over Ohio. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Let’s play a game. The game is called What If? The rules are simple. All you have to do is use your imagination.

Everybody ready?

How would the media cover Hillary Clinton if

1. She marched around boasting that she is worth $10 billion and had business relationships all over the world, including Russia, but refused to release her tax returns?

2. Her excuse was that she’s under audit, even though she was no longer under audit for numerous years, and the IRS has no restrictions on releasing returns under audit anyway?

3. She had launched a foundation that — rather than attempting to save sick people’s lives — spent other people’s money buying portraits of herself?

4. Her record of service included launching a get-rich quick scheme that was under investigation for fraud?

[The media has] to decide whether they are going to vet Trump, as they have his opponent, or continue to aid and abet him.

5. She had given a $25,000 campaign contribution (illegally) to a state attorney general who was deciding whether to investigate this scam?

6. She had gone bankrupt four times and, in the process, stiffed hundreds of workers and small business owners?

7. She went on national TV and claimed to have opposed the Iraq War, even though she was captured on radio, and in print, supporting the war?

8. She had no idea that Russia had invaded the Ukraine, or what “the nuclear triad” was?

9. She issued “policy statements” such as: We’re going to build a wall! We’re going to win! We’re going to get rid of ISIS. Women [who seek abortions] should be punished?

10. She called Mexicans “rapists” and women “pigs” and “bitches” and called for a ban on Muslims entering the country and mocked a handicapped reporter?

11. She hired a campaign manager who gleefully published white nationalist propaganda, and another fired from his job for sexually harassing dozens of women?

12. She had a record of lying at least 70 percent of the time?

I could go on, but you get the point.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, center, is surrounded by the media in Washington, Monday, March 21, 2016. (Alex Brandon/AP)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, center, is surrounded by the media in Washington, Monday, March 21, 2016. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Unfortunately, those in the national media — in particular, the television media — do not get the point.

With a few notable exceptions, they are covering Trump like a celebrity, not like a candidate.

As they have for the past 16 months, they are gleefully broadcasting his various publicity stunts — Trump appears on a daytime TV show with a note from his doctor! Trump visits an African-American church! — while simultaneously refusing to confront him about his history of shady business dealings, his lack of transparency, his strategic use of hate speech and incitement, and even the most basic details of his proposed policies.

This would mean not allowing him to bully and ramble and evade, and instead forcing him to answer (or refuse to answer) simple, direct questions about all of the above.

Instead, thus far, reporters and pundits have essentially allowed Trump to normalize hate speech. They have given him massive swaths of airtime while failing to challenge him on his lies and evasions and alleged crimes. He has thus been free to re-brand himself as a kinder, gentler demagogue for mass consumption.

He is conning America right before our eyes.

Whatever her faults as a candidate, Clinton tells the truth most of the time, and has a detailed record of public service. Reporters have spent months harping on allegations against her that Trump would brush off with a wave of his fingers.

The result is that Americans see Trump, who is a documented pathological liar, as more honest than Clinton, who is a politician.

If Trump is elected president, it will be largely because our Fourth Estate has abdicated its most sacred function.

To be clear: The fault does not reside entirely with the media. For a conman of Trump’s magnitude to flourish, a significant portion of the electorate has to decide, on some level, that truth and integrity and competence matter less than the cleansing glories of rage and grievance.

The dynamics playing out in this election are the result of decades of celebrity worship and deification of the wealthy and vilification of government, not to mention entrenched misogyny and racial anxiety.

But the dark worldview held by nearly every American who buys into Trump’s alpha male ravings — and reflexively condemns Clinton — is one that has been cultivated by a media system that profits by prodding our primal negative emotions.

The Americans who make up this media system now have less than two months to decide whether they are going to vet Trump, as they have his opponent, or continue to aid and abet him.

If Trump is elected president, it will be largely because our Fourth Estate has abdicated its most sacred function.

Author's note: One more What If, designed for Trump supporters: If you feel Trump is not the beneficiary of a double standard, please use the comment section below to explain why. Please don’t just rave about Benghazi and email servers, etc. That’s just going to prove my point. Answer the questions posed above.

Read more by Steve Almond:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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