Jamelle Bouie makes a seemingly indisputable point about Donald Trump:
Let's dispute this anyway. Bouie is referring to an interview by Lester Holt that's airing tonight on the NBC Nightly News. Here's a slightly cleaned up version of the portion he's talking about:
LESTER HOLT: You also made the claim that [Hillary Clinton's] e-mail, personal e-mail server, had been hacked, probably by foreign governments, suggesting that...she would be compromised as president. What evidence do you have?
DONALD TRUMP: Well first of all, she shouldn't have had a personal server, okay? She shouldn't have had it. It's illegal. What she did is illegal. Now she might not be judging that way because, you know, we — we have a rigged system. But what she did is illegal. She shouldn't have had a personal server —
HOLT: But is there any evidence that it was hacked other than routine fishing attacks?
TRUMP: I think I read that and I heard it and somebody —
TRUMP: — that also gave me that information. I will report back to you. I'll give it to you.
HOLT: But you just said it with such certainty yesterday.
TRUMP: I don't know if certainty. Probably she was hacked. You know, you can be hacked and not know it, but she probably was hacked. The fact is she should not have it, she should not have had a personal server.
"I will report back to you." How lame! But before you scoff too much, think about what happened during this brief exchange:
- Holt repeated the claim that Hillary Clinton's email server had been hacked, "probably by foreign governments."
- Trump made a little speech about her personal server being illegal
- Holt repeated the claim, using the words "hacked" and "fishing attacks."
- Trump says he read that somewhere and he'll get back to Holt with the evidence.
To folks like us, who follow this stuff obsessively, this seems obviously ridiculous. But to the average viewer it's exactly the opposite. Trump has managed to maneuver Holt into spending 40 seconds of his evening newscast repeating damaging charges against Hillary Clinton. Between the two of them, in the space of that 40 seconds, you hear the words personal server four times, hacked five times, illegal three times, and compromised, rigged, and fishing attacks once each. When it's over, Trump promises to produce evidence backing this up. "I will get it to you," he says, in a tone that very much suggests he will indeed get it to us. (Click the link and listen to Trump if you don't believe me about this.)
This is the farthest thing from lame. It is an awesome display of media manipulation. The average person will come away from this with one and only one impression: Hillary Clinton probably used an illegal email server that was hacked by foreign governments. Period. Holt's skepticism doesn't even come through because he's too worried about trying to sound professional—and Trump took advantage of that to make Holt into yet another of his unwitting media dupes. This entire interview was nothing but a huge win for Trump. Holt served up every single thing he wanted on a silver peacock feather.
If you don't want to give Trump air time to make baseless charges, then you should refuse to air his baseless charges. This whole section of the interview should have been left on the cutting room floor. If everyone did that, eventually Trump would learn that making wild accusations won't get him precious exposure. But TV news loves wild accusations and pretends that airing them is OK as long as they follow up with a knowing, eyes-raised pronouncement that "no evidence was forthcoming from the Trump campaign." Haha. All of us who are in the know understand what that means.
This should stop. Period. Everyone is playing Trump's game, and it's way past time to knock it off.