Never in modern history has the news media been so united in its condemnation of a presidential candidate and in its determination to use its influence to help prevent his election. Does that mean the election is rigged?
It is certainly a new view of the media function. The media’s sense of civic duty, in even the most high-minded view, is not about protecting the public, but about orchestrating the claims of people and institutions who think they can protect it. The natural competitiveness of the media business, and market sense that moralizing makes for a duller story, have, arguably, helped pluralism and democracy. The media is not a church.
But now it is. Or, save for a few outliers, it is like one in its absolute certainty, and hell and brimstone warnings, that electing Donald Trump would be electing the devil. Since September, when the polls appeared to tighten, the message from newspapers, cable stations, networks and pundits, and from the social media echo box, has been as consistent as it might be from Sunday pulpits—or, for that matter, in Saturday union halls, or Thursday meetings of special interest groups.
The media, virtually all forms of it, virtually all aspects of its ownership, virtually all of its employees, on an institutional and operational basis, has come to see itself as a firewall against Donald Trump. Indeed, in an altogether new sense of itself, the imperative quite seems to be to prove it can be a firewall—that it can claim a historic role in the defeat of Trump and the election of Hillary Clinton. For a sense of mission like this, you would have to reach back to the media’s de rigueur patriotism during the Second World War, or to how it fell into line during the tensest years of anti-communism, or to the sense of national crisis in the months after 9/11.
In this, Donald Trump, even having garnered a major party nomination and a base of support likely over 40% of the electorate, might fairly see himself as being treated differently from other presidential nominees, and, indeed, being effectively blocked from the possibility of being elected. The system is against him—that is, it’s rigged.
The media response to Trump’s protestations of a great rigging is, largely in concert, and helpful to its case against him, to deride him for suggesting that it is rigged. In fact, to use his claim as further evidence that he is not only not suited to be president, but it is he who is undermining democracy—in a sense a double rigging.
Trump, not especially helping his argument, has conflated voter fraud with his case against the media. It is undoubtedly much easier to understand the concept of voter fraud, however improbable, than it is to understand the…