In the first presidential debate, Donald Trump said he was smart for not paying taxes, admitted that he had cheered on the housing crisis, and suggested that the US run a protection racket for our allies. Meanwhile, both candidates traded barbs over trade, race, and overseas engagement and almost entirely neglected poverty and climate change. In other words: plenty to talk about!
But the media, with the eager help of the Clinton campaign, have focused on only one story: the harassment of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado by Donald Trump 20 years ago. Why? We'll leave that for you to decide...
"Theme from 8 1/2" by Nino Rota
BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
This week saw the first presidential debate and the ensuing debate over who won the first presidential debate, which, strictly speaking, is unanswerable. There is no panel of judges scoring on a point system. What isn’t unanswerable is who the media say won the debate. And that one’s easy. Factoring out a few outlier votes, Hillary Clinton trounced Donald Trump.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Point by point, she hit him on personal matters to get him to react, and in every case he reacted.
BILL O’REILLY: For example, mentioning someone like Rosie O’Donnell in a presidential debate? Never a good thing.
BOB GARFIELD: If there were an algorithm to determine who won it might be something like – number of memorable prepackaged zingers.
HILLARY CLINTON: I call it “Trumped Up, Trickle Down” because that’s exactly what it would be.
BOB GARFIELD: Minus volume of bodily function sounds –
[SOUND OF TRUMP SNIFFLING]
- divided by moments of becoming unhinged along Captain Queeg lines.
DONALD TRUMP: Everybody refuses to call Sean Hannity. I had numerous conversations with Sean Hannity at Fox, and Sean Hannity said – and he called me the other day and I spoke to him about it.
BOB GARFIELD: How the electorate processes 90 minutes of back and forth is always a mystery. Even the dial groups brought in by the cable channels are recording reactions to moments, not overall perceptions. And for the media, those moments are the commodity.
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.
SENATOR LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You mentioned the Navy, for example, that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets.
BOB GARFIELD: The candidates, therefore, are heavily motivated to orchestrate gasp-worthy moments of “no, she didn’t!”
HILLARY CLINTON: He called this woman “Miss Piggy.” Then he called her “Miss Housekeeping” because she was Latina. Donald, she has a name.
DONALD TRUMP: Where did you find this, where did you find this?
HILLARY CLINTON: Her name is Alicia Machado.
DONALD TRUMP: Where did you find this?
HILLARY CLINTON: And she has become a US citizen, and you can bet –
DONALD TRUMP: Oh, really?
HILLARY CLINTON: - she’s going to vote –
DONALD TRUMP: Okay,
HILLARY CLINTON: - this November.
DONALD TRUMP: Okay, good.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, this is the same debate in which Donald Trump brags that he was smart for not paying taxes, admitted that he had rooted for the housing crisis and suggested that we should run something resembling a protection racket on our allies. But this week in the media, it was all martyred beauty queen, all the time. Cosmopolitan Magazine and TheGuardian newspaper both rushed off in-progress pieces on Machado soon after the debate, so as not to miss the Miss Piggy train. And you could hardly turn on the television without seeing the woman's face.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Joining me now, the former Miss Universe and now Hillary Clinton supporter.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: And Alicia Machado joins me now.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: …interviewed Machado on The Today Show, so at least for the next couple of days it’s, it’s not going to go away.
BOB GARFIELD: The helpful intermediary offering up this most coveted guest for one-stop booking, [LAUGHS] why, the Clinton campaign, as explained on CNN.
CORRESPONDENT BRIANNA KEILAR: Anderson, this is very clearly a concerted effort and a very organized effort by the Clinton campaign to get Alicia Machado's story out there. They think it speaks to sexism, they think it speaks to racism.
BOB GARFIELD: For crying out loud, though the screen graphics said “breaking news,” the Machado story itself has been making the rounds for more than a year, from Jorge Ramos on Univision to The New York Times. The most charitable way to put it is the story had legs, really nice legs.
No, contrary to some Twitter speculation, there’s no evidence of media collusion with the Clinton campaign, but that almost doesn't matter. What matters is that the Clinton strategists, maybe because they’ve carefully observed the whole Trump circus, did know exactly how the press would take the bait. It’s a little creepy. It’s distasteful. But mainly, it’s just embarrassing.