I’m gonna throw this out as an answer to why the Times (and other supposedly responsible media outlets) are acting so strange on Trump and CLinton. Yes, the senior management of the New York Times has had a hard-on for the Clinton family since 1992. But Krugman is right, this year they have acted really, really strange. I think it comes down to something more fundamental than personal animus or whether Hillary Clinton has held any press conferences. At its heart the Times and similar media outlets have a hackable business model. And Trump is hacking it.
It all comes down to the graphic below. The Times stakes its reputation on independence, balance etc., which means this figure below must not be allowed to happen under any circumstances.
The New York Daily News could not care less if you call it biased. The NYDN is biased. They think Republicans are assholes. They have a clear editorial perspective. In a city with six hundred different print news outlets that is a perfectly reasonable position to take. FOX News? You could make a thousand graphs like that and they still won’t give a shit. Just ask Media Matters. In the same way Trump only ‘courted’ black people to reassure white suburban women, that ironic FOX slogan comforts people who want to think black people are bad and dangerous but hate the connotations that a word like racist carries with it.
The Times is not one more paper in a crowded market. The Times imagines itself to be the outlet, the singular gateway to journalistic credibility. You could say the Wall Street Journal and the Times are the dual avatars of conservatives and centrist Democrats, but the NYT is not having any of that. They want to be the first place Republicans and Democrats get their news. Maybe five or six other outlets spread around print and TV see themselves the same way.
An outlet like the Times has no real defense against a human Gish gallop like Trump. He has done so many reprehensible things, is doing, and will do next week that it takes superhuman resources just to keep up. How is that Trump University fraud case going? I have no idea. I almost forgot about it between reading how amazingly racist Trump was as a landlord and goggling at the chutzpah of him complaining about the Clinton foundation while every detail of the Pam Bondi bribery story is so much worse than I thought*. Just last week he gave a screaming fascist tirade in place of a speech about immigration policy and I already have to remind myself how bad it really was.
Meanwhile Hillary is a fucking boy scout. She doesn’t do anything worth criticizing. She stays on script. She has good advisers who keep her from offending anybody unless she means to (i.e. Breitbart, Stormfront and the KKK). If you dig a little deeper, you find that she basically does things by the book. If you interview everyone who has ever known her, you find out that she…does things pretty much by the book. You can read every damn email she has written in her capacity as Secretary of State and the story stays frustratingly the same. If anything the story gets weaker, not stronger, the more you know about it. I challenge people to find any other remotely powerful human being who would withstand this level of scrutiny. Okay, fine, Obama. Find me two. In a fair world where stories reported actual bad things that people did Times coverage would look like the graph above, and half of the stories about Hillary would be stuff like accidentally starting a reply-to-all disaster at State.
Bus as I said, the graph must not happen. And as the old advice goes for attorneys when you don’t have the facts or the law on your side, pound the table. CNN and the Times have to criticize something, but she rudely gives them stale crumbs to work with. Trump is a lavish cruise ship buffet of leads. In any normal race that Pam Bondi bribery story (also fraudulent donation reporting and tax evasion) would be duck confit on glazed figs. You could work a story like that for months. But try to visualize the main buffet table on a upper-tier cruise. You can’t see the end of it. You could cross the international date line before you realize the confit is even there.
Further, I think that point about taking your time to digest a story is extremely important. Gish gallops work because people cannot process any one lie before the next one hits you. Clinton is the polar opposite of a Gish gallop. Unless someone wants to claim Benghazi has some meat left on its bones (Gowdy? Has anyone seen Trey Gowdy?) emails is all they have. A reporter assigned to say something bad about Clinton** has to keep coming back to the email thing over and over again. That means they have time to understand it, to dig in, try different angles, find the person who won’t answer questions and make them a villain. People keep hearing about this same story to the point where they assume she did something wrong. Not everyone knows the first rule of judging a scandal story – the most damning specific allegation leads. If a two thousand word story opens with shadows, or clouds, or a coolish breeze out of the northeast then you will not find anything worth reading further in. Burying the killer allegation where only devoted readers will find it is journalistic malpractice of the first degree.
The Times needs to print something, because figure one above. So we get clouds, and people imagine Clinton must have done something bad, and Paul Krugman pulls his hair out, because the only thing you need to hack the business model at the Times is to be the worst person on Earth.
(*) Time to dust off Brad DeLong’s rule #1 about the Bushies: even knowing it is worse than you think, it is still worse than you think.
(**) A given reporter would certainly protest if you phrase it that way, but from an editorial standpoint that’s what it is.