To the Mainstream Media: Stop Politicizing a Natural Disaster

As the whole genre of “fake news” grows and we have a sitting president who lies constantly in order to reinforce his own delusional thinking, it is more important than ever that our mainstream media outlets provide us with a thoughtful and mature assessment of our situation. Let’s be clear, there are a lot of situations where they do just that. For example, yesterday I quoted important stories on the Russia scandal from both the Washington Post and the New York Times.

But today, both of those newspapers published stories about hurricane Harvey that tell us why so many people complain about the so-called “mainstream media.” While the rain is still falling and rescue efforts are underway, the Washington Post decided to publish a story on how it might affect Trump’s political fortunes.

While personal harm and property damage resulting from Harvey are rightly the overriding concern, there is already speculation about how Donald Trump will handle the first major natural disaster of his presidency and whether it could significantly affect his reelection fortunes.

They proceed to review the research on how natural disasters affect voters. To demonstrate the speculation they refer to, they point to an article in Politico. More than anything else, it is this callous disregard for how events actually affect voters in favor of reporting on the political horse race that turns people off—to both the media and politics.

The New York Times story I want to point to presents a different kind of problem. It comes from Glenn Thrush and is titled, “Harvey Gives Trump a Chance to Reclaim Power to Unify.” The title gives it away, but here’s the point:

Hurricane Harvey was the rarest of disasters to strike during the Trump presidency — a maelstrom not of Mr. Trump’s making, and one that offers him an opportunity to recapture some of the unifying power of his office he has squandered in recent weeks.

Like the story in the Washington Post, this one is all about Trump’s political fortunes while the storm still rages. But it’s even worse than that. I have no idea what goes on in someone’s head who assumes that we can all dismiss what we’ve seen with our own eyes and heard with our own ears over the last year and a half. Trump didn’t squander his “unifying power” in recent weeks. He’s been at it since he decided to jump on the birther bandwagon to launch his political career. In subsequent days, he has never demonstrated the slightest interest in unity. The best example was the one presidents usually use in an attempt to bring the country together—their inaugural address. Even on that occasion, Trump’s message was divisive as well as dystopian.

Even if Trump is able to provide a positive message in the coming days, to forget all of the racist, divisive lies we’ve been hearing for months now would be like assuming that a drug addict is cured if they go a day without a fix. That is what enablers do. Anyone who has ever been to an Al-Anon meeting will tell you that the first (of many) steps an addict must take is to admit that they have a problem—something Trump seems incapable of doing.

All I can say to the New York Times and the Washington Post is, “Get your act together. We need you. And you can do better than this.”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.