On Wednesday, The Washington Post published an exhaustive interview of Donald Trump by reporters Steven Ginsberg and Robert Costa. The interview, which is described as lasting an hour and a half, took place on December 3. By this date Trump had already made waves for numerous intemperate and asinine statements during his campaign, including a proposal to establish a national database of Muslims living in the United States.
Based on the article, it appears that, during the entire 90 minutes of the interview, Ginsberg and Costa failed to ask a single policy question. The closest they came to one occurred towards the beginning, when they wrote: “We asked whether he was going to reach out to Muslims, to try to smooth over relations.”
And that’s it. That’s the entirety of the policy portion of the interview. Nevertheless, they made time for other pertinent questions such as:
“Are you really ready for that political pain [of losing one or more states in the primaries]?”
“Is that something you’re afraid of? One day you’ll walk down the fairway and nobody will be looking?”
“Before you go, I promised my 8-year-old son, who watches ‘Morning Joe’ with me, that I’d ask one of his questions…His question to you is: ‘Are you a nice guy?’”
On November 23rd, about a week before the Washington Post interview took place, GQ had published its own exclusive Trump interview. It, too, spent almost no time on policy, except for a couple unfocused digressions on nuclear war and Black Lives Matter that served primarily to illustrate reporter Chris Heath’s severe lack of interest in both topics.
While GQ can perhaps be forgiven for eschewing the finer points of public policy, no such excuse applies to Robert Costa and Steven Ginsberg’s train-wreck of an interview. (For the record, I’m generally a fan of Robert Costa’s work. The phenomenon of Trump and the press is certainly not limited to just these two pieces: I chose them as examples because I’d read them both recently and they came immediately to mind, but there are myriad other examples.)
It’s bad enough that the man currently leading the GOP primaries by a country mile often seems to elicit more interest in his bombastic mannerisms than in the substance of his rhetoric. Still worse, the press’s often obsessive fascination with Trump the person obscures the Hitler-esque racial animus espoused by Trump the presidential candidate. Perhaps most damagingly of all, by zeroing in on the impromptu yet vigorous tone of Trump’s speeches instead of their precise content, the press fails to hone in on a larger, crucial story: policies supported by other – far more ‘mainstream’ – candidates such as Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz bear a striking resemblance to the ones articulated by Trump, particularly as it pertains to applying controls on Muslims entering the country.
But the press largely missed this, to such an extent that Bush, who had already explicitly endorsed a religious test for refugees to deny Muslims entry to the United States, nevertheless accused Trump of being ‘unhinged’ for his own proposed Muslim ban:
Donald Trump is unhinged. His "policy" proposals are not serious.— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) December 7, 2015
It’s difficult to imagine a situation in which a properly focused press corps could (with some exceptions) fail to notice the startling similarities between Trump’s and Bush’s proposals. But that is precisely the case with the herd of reporters following Trump’s campaign today.