The 2016 presidential campaign will be remembered not only for its historically unpopular candidates, but also as the year the rules went out the window and the media dropped any pretense of objectivity.
When Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination, American reporters quickly deputized themselves as members of Hillary Clinton's press team.
In the summer, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg broke long-time tradition and protocol to criticize Trump not once, not twice, but four times in four subsequent interviews. The press had a field day, and journalists couldn't contain their glee.
After a CNN analyst proclaimed that stories about Clinton's health had "no place" in the reporting of legitimate news outlets, the network sent reporter Drew Griffin to corner Trump's medical doctor at his office in a gross display of gotcha journalism.
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"The press has kind of tried to make you out to be some kind of a lunatic," Griffin told Trump's doctor in one of the most spectacular displays of weasel word mastery in the history of American journalism. Griffin ended the segment by sheepishly admitting that all the evidence indicated Trump's physician is a well-liked doctor with good standing in the medical community.
Meanwhile, at The Huffington Post, editors fired columnist David Seaman for asking questions about Clinton's health, then deleted his last few columns to make sure none of the publication's readers were troubled with content unflattering to Clinton.
A Slate columnist criticized The Associated Press for daring to report on the pay-to-play scandal in Clinton's State Department. The New York Times' Farhad Manjoo called on Google to censor search results about Clinton's health. On Twitter, journalists openly celebrated when the Department of Justice declined to prosecute Clinton for her mishandling of classified emails.
All this for a candidate who refused to hold a press conference for almost a year.
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So on Sept. 5, when Clinton finally opened herself up to questions for the first time in a long time, what did American reporters ask her? Did they press her about the allegations of pay-for-play at the State Department? Did they ask her if she's finally going to release transcripts from her extremely profitable speeches to Wall Street banks? Did they push her to explain how she could collude with the DNC to sink the campaign of a fellow Democrat during the primaries?
Instead, those reporters -- who weren't permitted to ask Clinton a single question since December of 2015 -- tossed the candidate a sequence of grooved softballs:" "How was your Labor Day weekend?"; "Do you have a Labor Day message?"; "Have you missed us?"
Now reporters from those same media outlets are howling with indignation that Trump was interviewed by Larry King for a show streamed on the internet by RT, also known as Russia Today. How dare he! How could an American presidential candidate appear on a network owned by the Russian government?
The irony here is that if American reporters had taken their jobs seriously, if they'd stuck to serving their readers instead of serving a political candidate who won't even speak to them, Trump might not have felt the need to appear on a Russian-owned network -- Larry King or no Larry King.
The headlines, of course, distorted the appearance in ways maximally favorable to the Clinton campaign. The Los Angeles Times ran a headline saying Trump "Defends Putin On Putin's Network," while The Washington Post headline informs readers that Trump "attacks U.S. foreign policy, political press corps on state-owned Russian television network."
So what did Trump say that was so controversial?
The U.S. "should have never gone into Iraq," the businessman told King. That's about as close to a universal truth as it gets these days, even though the U.S. media doesn't like to remind readers and viewers that Clinton was one of the war's biggest cheerleaders.
Asked about the allegations that Russians were behind the numerous email hacks into DNC and Clinton campaign servers, Trump had this to say:
“I think it’s probably unlikely. I think maybe the Democrats are putting that out. Who knows? ... I hope that if they are doing something ... somebody’s going to be able to find out so they can end it, because that would not be appropriate.”
Again, a reasonable statement. Clinton and the Democrats have accused the Russian government of trying to sway the election, and Clinton herself has gone so far as to accuse Trump of working with the alleged Russian attackers. There's just one problem -- there's no proof to back up those accusations. While answering questions about her email scandal, Clinton herself said she doesn't even know what "wiping a server" means, and now she's an IT expert who can traceroute highly skilled hackers through a conga of proxy machines all the way back to Moscow? Impressive.
And finally, there's the statement journalists are taking personally.
"The media has been unbelievably dishonest," Trump told King in the understatement of the year.
If indignant journalists have a problem with that, they probably should have thought about the consequences of aligning themselves with a political candidate instead of doing their jobs like the professionals they're supposed to be. Again, they're supposed to serve their readers and viewers, not become chummy with political operatives or offer their Baghdad Bob services to one candidate in an attempt to sway the election.
Journalists can either take their own jobs seriously or continue operating as Clinton lapdogs, but they can't have it both ways. And if they insist on destroying their remaining credibility to advocate for a candidate, then they should be honest with themselves and admit they're no different than a Kremlin-owned propaganda mill.