By almost any standard, President Donald Trump’s rally on Tuesday evening in Milwaukee was a bizarre affair. The president went on a lengthy tirade about lightbulbs, toilets, and showers; touted war crimes; joked about a former president being in hell; and said he’d like to see one of his domestic political foes locked up.
I tried to capture some of the speech’s disconcerting oddness in my write-up of the event. In many ways, the remarks the president made were typical of him. And that provides the media with a challenge: Describing Trump as he really is can make it seem as if a report is “anti-Trump” and that the reporter is trying to make the president look foolish.
But for media outlets that view themselves as above taking sides, attempts to provide a sober, “balanced” look at presidential speeches often end up normalizing things that are decidedly not normal.
A brief report about Trump’s Milwaukee speech that aired Wednesday morning on NPR illustrates this phenomenon. The anchor’s intro framed Trump’s at times disjointed ramblings as a normal political speech that “ranged widely,” and the ensuing report (which originated from member station WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio) characterized his delivery as one in which he “snapped back at Democrats for bringing impeachment proceedings.”
“Trump was taking on Democrats on their own territory,” the reporter said, when in reality Trump heaped abuse on them, for instance, suggesting former Vice President Joe Biden is experiencing memory loss.
Listen for yourself:
This NPR clip illustrates how the media subtly normalizes Trump. His speech last night in Milwaukee in which he ranted about lightbulbs and toilets, touted war crimes, and joked about a former president being in hell is presented as a typical political speech. pic.twitter.com/NaJB9BhWfE
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 15, 2020