The Trump show – a Rob Ford rerun?: English
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Jan 29, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

The Trump show – a Rob Ford rerun?: English

Covering Donald Trump sometimes seems like a rerun for Daniel Dale, the Toronto Star’s Washington correspondent and former city hall reporter who had a front-row seat to the Rob Ford spectacle

OurWindsor.Ca

Daniel Dale, the Toronto Star’s Washington correspondent, had a moment of déjà vu last weekend when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made the outrageous claim he could go shoot someone on New York’s Fifth Ave. and not lose votes.

“I thought, ‘where have I heard that before in the Rob Ford context’,” said Dale, who covered Toronto city hall during the infamous Ford years. “I did a few seconds of Googling, and Doug Ford said a nearly identical thing in 2010 about Rob Ford and his voters.”

For those of us captivated by the presidential race, observing from afar often feels like watching a reality show in the making. But for Dale, reporting up-close on Trump’s campaign sometimes seems like reporting on a spectacle he’s already seen. A rerun of sorts.

“It’s just uncanny sometimes,” Dale told me. “Last week, during Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Trump, she attacked elites who are ‘slurpin’ off the gravy train’.’’

In advance of heading to Iowa to cover Monday’s first caucuses to determine voters’ early choices, Dale answered my questions about the challenges of covering presidential politics, circa 2016, in general and the Trump show in particular.

How is covering Trump similar to covering Ford?

“Both were considered a joke at the outset of their runs, then rocketed to the top of the field, then stayed there despite supposed gaffes and errors. Both are affluent men (though Trump is much richer) who have managed to appeal most strongly to lower-income voters. Both have said offensive things about minority groups. Both are considered by many voters to be authentic straight-talkers despite their frequent dishonesty. Both have engendered unusually strong devotion from their supporters. Both attack members of the media and media outlets and both have skillfully exploited anger at elites and a government perceived as out-of-touch.”

What are the differences?

“Trump’s support base is overwhelmingly white, while much of Ford’s was non-white. Ford never attacked minority groups in this kind of open, systematic way. And Trump has succeeded while taking on an entire party, while Ford rose in a kind of conservative vacuum in a non-party system.

With Ford, the Star and its reporters were drawn deeply into the story. I think we can probably manage to go a whole presidential election without Trump attacking the Star. My role is also different: Ford was our city’s mayor, and it was my responsibility as a city hall reporter for a city paper to hold him accountable. As a Canadian reporter covering an American election for Canadians, the role is more education and explanation, and maybe a bit of entertainment, than accountability.”

What is the challenge in reporting fairly and seriously on Trump?

“The first is repeating his false or misleading claims without fact-checking. I’m trying to approach my coverage as I did the Ford saga: it’s incumbent to stand up for truth and facts; that’s not bias, that’s fairness. For example, whenever Trump claims he’s self-funding his campaign, I tweet that this is verifiably untrue.

The second is relying on assumption and stereotype. It’s easy for Canadians to see Trump supporters as generic ignoramuses. At Trump rallies, I try to speak to as many average people as possible. I think it’s more interesting to explain what they think than to mock them.”

Is Trump getting too much coverage?

“Even though he is the frontrunner and the major story, I don’t think there’s a reasonable argument that he should be receiving so much more coverage than the rest of the field combined. That said, there’s a good argument he should receive some amount more coverage. This is a top presidential candidate who is openly Islamophobic, insulting Mexicans, mocking the disabled; who is leading a Republican race while attacking popular Fox News hosts and saying nice things about Canadian-style health care; who is making impossible promises; who is drawing crowds like we’ve never seen in a modern primary; who says newsworthy things almost every day.”

How do you see your role as a Canadian journalist covering American politics?

“I don’t think a Canadian paper has the same responsibilities in an American election as we do in a Canadian election. We don’t have a democratic responsibility to offer relatively equal time to the contenders. Rather, we have the luxury of writing about the spectacle, the show, and what our readers are talking about – while also making sure to inform, of course.

From a strictly parochial Canadian perspective, Trump has been the most newsworthy candidate in recent weeks. He’s making a major campaign issue of Ted Cruz’s Canadian birth, and he just became the first Republican candidate to threaten to reject the Keystone pipeline. I think the Star should cover any direct Canadian angle to a presidential election, and Trump keeps on giving us Canada-related material. We have to write about others too, and we will keep doing so.

Trump, though, might well remain our most-covered candidate through the primary season. The phenomenon is remarkable, captivating, probably frightening to a lot of Canadians. A lot of what’s happening is objectively extraordinary.”

Toronto Star

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