Trump’s threat to jail Clinton has been covered half as much as Clinton’s emails. That’s a disgrace.
A spectacular thing happened during Sunday night’s presidential debate. It didn’t have to do with Bill Clinton. It didn’t have to do with Donald Trump’s tax returns. It came when Trump threatened to throw his political opponent in jail.
Now, I imagine most people heard this. I imagine most people’s eyes widened a bit. But that’s about it. This story — which I believe to be one of the biggest of the entire campaign — has largely blended into the backdrop.
According to Lexis’s media database, major newspapers have mentioned Trump’s threat to jail Clinton 142 times since the debate. In that same time period, Clinton’s emails have been mentioned 404 times.
I’m not interested in debating whether or not the media ought to cover Clinton’s emails. They should. But are those emails more than twice as newsworthy as a candidate for President of the United States threatening to throw his political opponent in jail?
Let’s get something straight. American presidents cannot “instruct the attorney general” to do anything. That’s an impeachable offense, according to the legal scholar Laurence Tribe. And as former Attorney General Eric Holder points out, it caused President Nixon’s attorney general to resign.
Using the power of the presidency to target political opponents is what goes on under Hugo Chavez, Hosni Mubarak, Vladimir Putin, or Hitler. It’s what happens in Iran and Turkey, not the United States. Nevertheless, it was just proposed by a man nominated to be our president, in front of tens of millions of people. That’s not just a story bigger than Clinton’s emails. It’s not just a story that merits coverage. It’s a story that deserves to be on the front page of every newspaper in the country. For days.
Trump has long flirted with the theme of breaking down America’s democratic institutions: The normalizaiton of violence. The glorification of Putin. The chants to “lock her up.” This is not evidence that Trump’s latest comment is non-newsworthy; to the contrary, it is a signal that we ought to take it that much more seriously.
The media has committed its share of journalistic malpractice thus far in the campaign. But failing to magnify such a brutal, unprecedented attack on our democratic institutions is by far the new low.