talking

Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we try to report Republican politics…

Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that he won’t be attending Thursday’s Republican debate, due to be aired by Fox News. The reason: his ongoing feud with debate moderator, Megyn Kelly. It was Kelly, you might remember, who challenged Trump the hardest when the two faced off at the first GOP debate back in August. It was Kelly’s hard line of questioning (‘You’ve called women you don’t like: “fat pigs”, “dogs”, “slobs” and “disgusting animals”…’) which later led Trump to make his ‘blood coming out of her… wherever’ remark, which some interpreted as a reference to menstruation, despite the fact that Trump also made the same comment about Chris Wallace, one of Kelly’s male colleagues on Fox News.

That was perhaps the moment the media really began to turn on Trump and any attempt at balanced reporting seemed to disappear almost entirely from the news agenda. Trump was demoted to the joke candidate and treated as such which, naturally, fed the narrative he was perpetuating about an untrustworthy media. That message chimed with his audiences and his vote share went up. It became a positive feedback loop. The greater his polling, the more the media mocked him and the most dishonest they looked, allowing him to repeat his accusations with even greater effect on his audience.

In the latest debacle, the sides should be fairly easy to take. Trump is the real estate mogul who is currently indulging in the pleasures of demagoguery in order to win the nomination for the Republican Party. Kelly is a journalist whose network is desperate for the ratings that Trump’s demagoguery will bring. Yet they cannot now be seen to back down and compromise their journalistic integrity.

Who wouldn’t take Kelly’s side? For their part, journalists are naturally supporting Kelly. The liberal press are defending her because they would never defend Trump. The right wing press are defending Kelly because they too dislike Trump who they suspect (I think correctly) of being less Republican than he pretends. And this, I put it to you, is why American politics is the most supreme example of the art.

Yet if we step back and consider both sides, I think it’s Trump who has the winning argument. If he were simply objecting to hard questions, then as a candidate he has no right. However, Megyn Kelly is not simply a journalist. She is an example of that developing trend in American news journalism of the ‘journalist with an opinion’. To call them ‘shock-jocks’ is to demean their journalism. Really, a new term needs to be coined to describe these hybrid journalist-commentators  (‘journators’?) whose personal opinions stray quite obviously into their supposedly impartial reporting of the news.

Fox News has most famously developed the role with the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity hosting shows that are quite clearly driven by the opinions of the debate moderators. It is also notable that in Fox News’s evening line-up, The Kelly File hosted by Megyn Kelly, is sandwiched between the shows by O’Reilly and Hannity. As the network describes the show: ‘Megyn Kelly gets to the news of the day — with a little heat!’

Providing heat is Kelly’s skill but it means that she goes beyond the usual boundaries of impartial news journalism. It’s why Kelly was always a favourite stooge for Jon Stewart during his long stint on The Daily Show. Regular viewers will recall the countless instances he mocked Kelly for switching unexpectedly from journalist to immoderate opinion former. Take, as just one example (Youtube have compilations if you’re interested) of Kelly suddenly breaking the front wall of traditional journalism to explain to her audience the reality of Christmas.

This example is far from unique and I’m sure, like me, you’ll have watched enough news to recognise these moments of opinion creep. Yet even if Kelly weren’t prone to subtle editorialising, Trump is still right to highlight the problem, even if he was partially guilty of creating it in the first place. By making an issue of Kelly, he has produced a situation by which Kelly cannot ask a question without our feeling like that question is barbed by the bigger issue. The debate already become greater than the issues being debated between the nominees. The very fact that I’m writing this article and that hundreds of thousands of other words have been written and will be written is testament to the fact that Thursday night is now really about the Trump/Kelly standoff.

That does give Fox News a reasonable escape. By admitting that the argument is overshadowing the debate, they could withdraw Kelly to ensure impartiality whilst also claiming that they do so in order to maintain their own journalistic standards. This is the last Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses and the last chance for the other candidates to challenge Trump’s dominance. Trump’s absence will the rob the event of the leading candidate. It would also mean that I wouldn’t get to see how well Jeb Bush does now that he has followed my advice and ditched his glasses. All told: the problems Trump has with Megyn Kelly are too trivial to rob us all of what promised to be one of the defining events of 2016.

David Waywell writes and cartoons at his blog The Spine.

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9 Comments on "Will Trump trump Kelly or Kelly trump Trump?"

  1. So Trump will not be on the Stumps, with his pumps. This is no time to be lilly livered if you want to make it to the White House. Does Trump the Chump realise he will have 4 years of dealing with the media if he were ever to be voted President of these here United States of America. Get your hair cut man, if you can’t be honest with your bald patch, what chance have you got of being transplanted into office!

  2. I think this is a logical decision for Trump to make. Given the strong position he finds himself in he would only stand to lose from participating in the debate as all of the others would have zeroed in on him, now it is Cruz who will be taking the heat instead.

    • Good point, Rob, though in truth the others have zeroes in on him at *every* debate. I think he’s making the point that he’s been invited to these debates only to be used as a punch bag. He was right about every question seeming to begin with ‘Donald Trump says’ but I’m not sure it’s clever to hand the debate to Cruz. I notice he’s Cruz has offered to debate face to face with Cruz Trump. Interesting games being played.

  3. David you will make the most of this pre-electrocution period, after all it is already hair raising, to say the least. I wait with bated breath to see what you come up with and what Trump comes up with…will he Trump himself, does he have the Trump card up his sleeve, or secreted in that coiffure of his? Time will tell, as the Swedish chef says gurdy gurdy!

    • Well, if my laughing at all references to the Swedish Chef wasn’t bad enough, I still struggle to avoid smiling at every vulgar usage of the word ‘trump’, although I’m not entirely sure how far the usage has spread. Here in the north of England ‘to trump’ means the same as ‘to fart’. That makes the thought of four years of Trump in the White House almost worth it for the comedic value… Trump in China, Trump in the Vatican, Trump in the presence of the Queen. 😉

  4. Yes David, but have you thought about Trump bowing in front of the Queen, and his hair dropping onto his chest, how embarrassing for her! As to any visits to the Vatican, any trumpeting may not be noticed as much with all the other trumpeting going on! As long as he doesn’t bend down to wash peoples feet he may get away with it. Don’t forget ‘fart in Swedish is speed’ and ‘utfart’ (pronounced oootfart) is the way out, or exit…well at least we know Trump is way out!

    • At this rate you’ll teach me to speak Swedish like a native in only a matter of a few years.

      • Well it took me 6 months but I was living there! Happy to give lessons if needs be! A start would be to remember a g is pronounced as a y. So Borg is in actual fact bory. Bjorn pronounced bjurn. Here endeth the lesson!

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