It’s hard to imagine now, but in 1996, children with AIDS were cruelly treated as outcasts, with parents terrified they would somehow infect other children. These dying children were denied basic rights like public education. And so philanthropists, including developer Steven Fisher, who had given generously to open a nursery school for children with AIDS, stepped in to do what the state would not. But according to The Washington Post, Fisher couldn't sit in his own seat at the school’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. Instead, Donald Trump had burst in the door and sat in the front row, seemingly eager to have his picture taken, giving the impression he had given generously, even though he hadn’t given a dime.
Washington Post reporter David Fahrenhold wrote that Trump then left the event without giving any money or an explanation for why he was at the ceremony sitting in the front row. Fahrenhold wrote:
For as long as he has been rich and famous, Donald Trump has also wanted people to believe he is generous. He spent years constructing an image as a philanthropist by appearing at charity events and by making very public — even nationally televised — promises to give his own money away.
Trump's campaign responded to the article and said he "has personally donated tens of millions of dollars ... to charitable causes." The campaign did not provide any evidence.
Fahrenhold’s piece, which claimed Trump's philanthropy was a facade, is an investigative blockbuster. Many of the allegations are shocking, even by Trump standards. For example, the piece details an underfunded public school where Trump was made principal for a day. He reportedly gave children on the chess team a million dollars for their bake sale, which they celebrated before they realized the money was fake. Trump reportedly left $200 and drove off in a limousine. Bustle has reached out to the Trump campaign for comment. This article is the kind of work that should win Fahrenhold the Pulitzer and absolutely dominate the week’s news cycle.
Instead, cable news spent the weekend dissecting Hillary Clinton and her ridiculous email situation. By now, journalists have determined that there is almost no merit to the story. For example, we now know: This is not a reopening of the email case. These emails were not to or from Hillary Clinton. It’s very likely these emails are duplicates of other emails already evaluated by the FBI. Senior officials in the Justice department warned FBI director James Comey not to send the letter. And in an internal letter, Comey said these emails may not be significant.
Most surprising of all, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid told Comey over the weekend that his office determined that Comey may have broken the law with this action, which could be seen as an attempt to influence the election:
Please keep in mind that I have been a supporter of yours in the past. When Republicans filibustered your nomination and delayed your confirmation longer than any previous nominee to your position, I led the fight to get you confirmed because I believed you to be a principled public servant.
With the deepest regret, I now see that I was wrong.
Worse still, on Monday afternoon, CNBC reported that Director Comey had opposed releasing information indicating that Russia had been tampering with the election. His reasoning was that it could be seen as interfering with the election. If true, it only worsens the impression that his motivation is political. Bustle has reached out to the FBI for comment on the release's timing.
Rather than realize this is an attempt to distract Americans, cable news continues to hammer the story. This isn’t just terrible journalism, like the endless hours dedicated to the missing Malaysian plane in 2014. It’s come at the expense of reporting real issues, like Fahrenhold’s blockbuster charity story. According to Media Matters, there are three other major stories that were ignored this weekend:
- The Telegraph detailed accusations from former Miss Finland, Ninni Laaksonen, saying that Trump sexually assaulted her. This makes her the 12th woman to accuse Trump of sexual assault. Trump has denied all previous allegations of sexual assault or unwanted advances. Bustle has reached out for comment on Laaksonen's claims.
- The New York Post reported that “Donald Trump initially offered the vice-presidential running-mate slot to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie but then withdrew it,” and then offered the position to Mike Pence.
- The Huffington Post found a video of Trump in 2011 “sexually humiliating” a Miss Universe winner on stage in front of thousands. Bustle has reached out for comment on the video.
Women will probably find this last story particularly stomach-churning. The video is nearly impossible to watch, with Trump taking his rage out on a woman onstage, using sexual degradation to make his point. “You know what? She came tonight, she came ― came, she came, she came,” says Trump, repeating the jab until he gets an uncomfortable laugh from the crowd.
“Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe that,” said Trump. He then added, “I was actually going to get up and tell you that Jennifer is a beautiful girl on the outside, but she’s not very bright. That wouldn’t have been true, but I would have said it anyway.”
Ignoring issues of substance has had potentially devastating consequences for the election. According to FiveThirtyEight, Trump could now have a viable path to the presidency, with a 24 percent chance of winning, according to current models. The damage to our democracy has been done.
This is far from the first time irresponsible news reporting has damaged our democracy. In 2004, President George Bush had invaded Iraq on faulty intelligence, which led to the loss of over 100,000 civilian lives as well as to the deadly situation we now face with ISIS and ISIL. The news media spent much of that election giving credence to a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a thoroughly discredited political operation attacking John Kerry’s war record. The charges against Kerry were immensely successful, yet wildly untrue. It even spawned the phrase “Swift Boating,” which means attacking a candidate with untrue claims that dominate a news cycle.
Somehow, the stakes are even higher in this election than in 2004. For the sake of our country, the news must drop the distraction of Clinton's use of a private email server, and return to informing the electorate.