Obama and Megyn Kelly: Media Critics

President Obama and Fox’s Megyn Kelly could be a Saturday Night Live duo, satirizing Obama and Kelly. Their latest schtick is to blame the news media for the rise of Donald Trump. Seriously?

Apr 13, 2016 at 10:00 am

President Obama and Fox’s Megyn Kelly could be a Saturday Night Live duo, satirizing Obama and Kelly. 

Their latest schtick is to blame the news media for the rise of Donald Trump. 


Maybe their wrong-headedness arises from being lame ducks: Obama leaves office in January; Kelly isn’t sure she’ll stay with Fox News.

Speaking of Trump’s media treatment, Kelly told Katie Couric, the Yahoo Global News anchor, “We have to worry about our souls and journalism.” 

Roll tape of audience laughter. This is the face of Fox News, the GOP’s cheerleading cable network and tea party booster. 

Kelly seemed surprised that Trump’s rise in the polls tracked news media coverage. “And then the media would sit there and say, ‘It’s amazing how the polls are just up, up.’ It’s like, you’re putting your thumb on the scale. … It’s a responsibility as journalists thing.” 

She sounds like SNL’s Tina Fey doing Sarah Palin. 

Kelly told CBS’s Charlie Rose that CNN should not have shown Trump’s event for veterans during her Fox GOP candidates’ debate… which Trump boycotted.

“There should have been a moment of solidarity among journalists that night to say, ‘We will not allow ourselves to be bullied by a presidential front-runner, even one as powerful and as ahead in the polls at that point as Trump was. This is about journalism and the First Amendment. … And I think it’s a slippery slope when we don’t stand shoulder to shoulder in those moments.”

I agree with that shoulder to shoulder bit, but it should be to dismiss Kelly’s self-serving call to ignore a leading presidential aspirant’s public event because she felt bullied. 

Kelly added that the best way to teach Trump a lesson would be to ban him from television, something she acknowledges is impossible. 

“What he really wants is oxygen, you know, he wants television time. So the only thing that is really meaningful to him, the only consequence that would actually have an effect on him, we cannot enact because it would be insane. You cannot ban the presidential front-runner from a channel.”

It’s impossible even for Fox News only because she can’t do it, not because it would  debase American journalism beyond Fox’s best efforts. 

Obama is no better a media critic than Kelly. Possibly worse, if his ability to influence public opinion exceeds hers. 

Obama is notoriously thin-skinned, and his Justice Department is contemptuous toward reporters who leave the White House echo chamber and stray from the administration’s message. 

Recently, Obama spoke at a New York journalism award ceremony, complaining hypocritically — and mistakenly — that coverage of the current presidential campaign suffered from reporters’ inability or unwillingness to be critical of candidates.

“A job well done is about more than just handing someone a microphone,” he said. 

If 24/7 coverage of Trump tarnishes “the American brand” abroad, as Obama claimed, it’s what Trump says and does, not what journalists report. Trump’s a giant among dwarfs at dominating the news cycle. 

Obama said accurate reports of Trump’s “divisive and often vulgar rhetoric” puzzled foreign leaders, and the president blamed what he called an uncritical platform provided by the news media. 

Trump isn’t unique in that respect, Obama added; reporters too rarely question candidates’ promises. 

Another finger-pointer is The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof: news media share the “shame” of Trump’s rise. Kristof’s assertion is what then-attorney general Janet Reno famously called “horse-pucky.” 

“Shame” is a powerful word. There is no shame in reporting how a candidate articulates fears and angers of millions of Americans, even when that candidate is a scary demagogue. 

Politico press critic Jack Shafer rebuts accusations that reporters give Trump a free ride, saying news media are all but “unified in an attempt to destroy” Trump.

Critical stories haven’t been limited to the usual suspects. Even the Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard, National Review and other traditionally conservative publications carry probes of how Trump’s failures and bankruptcies cost investors millions.

What critics ignore is Trump’s genius at winning  free “earned media” that others have to buy. As Eugene Robinson said in the Washington Post, “Blaming ourselves for Trump’s rise is just another way to ignore the voters who have made him a favorite for the GOP nomination.”

Claims that reporters uncritically aid and abet Trump’s rise also ignore stories likening him to Hitler or Mussolini.

It’s a mistake for news media to follow that thread, even when famous people draw the analogies. Equating someone with Hitler forecloses conversation. After someone has been likened to Hitler, there is nothing left to say.

It’s the F-bomb of epithets.

Worse is how any analogy to Hitler distracts us from cultural and economic problems that animate so many Trump followers. 

Their anger doesn’t make them Nazis any more than Trump’s buffoonish posturing as the omnipotent strongman who can solve everyone’s problems makes him Hitler or Mussolini.

Yet news media, online commentators, entertainment figures and others continue to embrace the analogy; his name is a synonym for awful.

If it’s not the Hitler analogy, it’s Mussolini and “fascist.” Los Angeles Times columnist Patt Morrison described the  growing list of public figures calling Trump a fascist, from George Clooney and Anne Frank’s stepsister to comedian Louis C.K.

Morrison interviewed Robert O. Paxton, author of The Anatomy of Fascism, who wondered whether “Trump is a textbook-definition fascist or  just seems to play one on television.”

The Daily Beast also found that “Donald Trump-as-Adolf Hitler analogies are all the rage. Jimmy Kimmel recast Trump as Hitler in an elaborate parody of The Producers, Bill Maher put Trump’s words in Hitler’s mouth, Louis C.K. directly said the Republican frontrunner is Hitler (and America is 1930s Germany) and Saturday Night Live portrayed his supporters as Nazis.

Trump-Hitler analogies entered mainstream daytime TV when Joy Behar introduced The View’s latest “Hot Topic.” Daily Beast reported that after playing a clip of the SNL ad, Behar said, “For years, I’ve been hearing, ‘Don’t make comparisons to Hitler, there was only one Hitler, thank God, that everybody else is not Hitler.’ ” 

But with so many people making the analogy, Behar asked the panel, “Is that a fair comparison, do you think, or is it over the top?” 

CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: [email protected]