October 20, 2020

Hunter’s emails. Sounds familiar, right? Replace “Hunter Biden” with “Hillary Clinton” and we’re back in 2016 again. Perhaps that is President Donald Trump’s plan as we head into the home stretch of the election.

While the media might have been complicit in the “Hillary’s emails” story back in 2016, is there a danger of that happening again in 2020? Is it already happening?

Not as much.

Hardly any media outlets, except for conservative ones, are giving the story any credence at all. In fact, the biggest story to come out since the New York Post’s supposed “bombshell” on Hunter Biden was Katie Robertson’s New York Times piece that pretty much obliterated the Post story by showing that even writers at the Post didn’t want their names associated with it.

But should the media even mention the Hunter Biden story? Or what Trump says about Dr. Anthony Fauci? Or rigged elections? Or the debate moderators?

Should it even go down the rabbit hole of chasing any Trump-generated stories that are meant to distract us all from actual legitimate issues?

The argument to be made is that anything a president says is newsworthy and the media is simply reporting on what the president says. Then again, the counter-argument — and one that deserves weight — is that covering Trump as if he is a normal president is dangerous because there is very little that is normal about the Trump presidency. To normalize Trump because of his job title, perhaps, does a disservice to news consumers.

In a really smart essay on his “Reliable Sources” show, CNN’s Brian Stelter talked about how Trump can suck the oxygen out of any news cycle. Isn’t this what Trump wants? To be the center of attention, the main headline in the newspapers and the top story on the evening news — even if it’s for saying something controversial and really not all that newsworthy?

But Stelter asks, “Is all the attention, is all the air time for Trump — is it working for him this time around? Or is it now working against him?”

There do seem to be some signs of a Trump fatigue, even among his supporters. Even Fox News has stopped airing many of his rallies in their entirety. His recent town hall was watched by fewer people than watched Joe Biden’s town hall that aired at the same time.

You’re, obviously, going to still see plenty of Trump stories between now and election day. But this time around, it feels as if the media is much less complicit in Trump’s strategy — if he actually has a strategy — of holding up shiny objects for everyone to look at. Instead of amplifying his message, it feels as if the media, this time, is exposing it for what it is.

This piece originally appeared in The Poynter Report, our daily newsletter for everyone who cares about the media. Subscribe to The Poynter Report here.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
Tom Jones

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