Trump Time Capsule #99: Editorials

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, at a Trump rally. (Scott Audette / Reuters)
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Through any campaign, candidates have ups and downs in their editorial-page treatment. The concentration of these four editorials in the past 24 hours seems unusual and is worth noting as a possible press recalibration.

1. Tampa Bay Tribune, “Feds should investigate Bondi-Trump connection.” This is of course about the apparent pay-to-play connection of Donald Trump’s donations to the Florida Attorney General’s campaign, and her then deciding against an investigation of Trump university. The editorial begins:

Federal prosecutors should investigate whether there is any connection between the decision by Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office not to pursue fraud allegations against Trump University and a $25,000 campaign contribution he gave her. Since Florida prosecutors will not touch this mess, the Justice Department is the only option. The appearance of something more than a coincidence is too serious and the unresolved questions are too numerous to accept blanket denials by Bondi and Trump without more digging and an independent review.

The Washington Post also has an editorial on this theme, “The Pam Bondi case shows that Trump is more hustler than businessman.” What is already known in this case—flow of money, favorable government treatment, exact cause-effect not yet proven—is so much starker than what is suspected in the many Clinton Foundation episodes that it is overdue for extra attention.

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2. Washington Post, “The Hillary Clinton email story is out of control.” An editorial-page counterpart to Bernie Sanders’s “We’re sick of hearing about your damned emails.” It concludes:

Imagine how history would judge today’s Americans if, looking back at this election, the record showed that voters empowered a dangerous man because of . . . a minor email scandal. There is no equivalence between Ms. Clinton’s wrongs and Mr. Trump’s manifest unfitness for office.

Imagine indeed.

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3. New York Times, “A debate disaster waiting to happen.” This is the lead editorial, about Matt Lauer’s unfortunate handling of the “Commander-in-Chief Forum.” Sample:

If the moderators of the coming debates do not figure out a better way to get the candidates to speak accurately about their records and policies — especially Mr. Trump, who seems to feel he can skate by unchallenged with his own version of reality while Mrs. Clinton is grilled and entangled in the fine points of domestic and foreign policy — then they will have done the country a grave disservice.

Whether or not one agrees with her positions, Mrs. Clinton, formerly secretary of state and once a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, showed a firm understanding of the complex issues facing the country. Mr. Trump reveled in his ignorance about global affairs and his belief that leading the world’s most powerful nation is no harder than running his business empire, which has included at least four bankruptcies.

“Grave disservice.” “Reveled in his ignorance.” This is an editorial rather than a news item, but it marks a different tone from most campaign-year coverage of debates.

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4. WaPo, “Gary Johnson’s Aleppo gaffe was bad. But Trump’s ignorance is worse.” The “gaffe” is of course Gov. Johnson’s “What is Aleppo?” question yesterday on the Morning Joe program. The significant word in this headline is “worse,” which sets up a distinction between, rather than the familiar “They’re all shading the truth!” false-equivalence grouping of, the errors and offenses of the candidates:

It’s refreshing, at least, to hear a national candidate [Johnson] acknowledge error and vow to do better.

Contrast that with Donald Trump, who in a televised national security forum Wednesday offered a staggering array of ignorant and mendacious assertions—and acknowledged no regrets about any of them.

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One by one, sentiments like some of these have appeared in some outlets over the the weeks. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that they all appear at the same time. But perhaps it indicates how the unprecedented nature of the campaign has been provoking and requiring a different approach by the press. One way or another, it is worth noting with 59 days to go.