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The Problem With The Media’s ‘Trump Is Pivoting’ Narrative

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The Problem With The Media’s ‘Trump Is Pivoting’ Narrative

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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump looks at the crowd while addressing The Faith and Freedom Coalition's "Road To Majority" conference in Washington, U.S., June 10, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Published with permission from Media Matters for America. 

Media figures have repeatedly claimed that presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is “pivoting” to the general election every time he does something that they think makes him look or sound “presidential.” Media’s constant search for Trump’s “pivot” effectively whitewashes all of the racist, sexist, slanderous, and conspiratorial attacks Trump has doled out, and mainstreams the idea that Trump’s past diatribes can be forgiven so long as he assumes a veneer of conventional, tempered behavior.

Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump and the media have engaged in a cycle wherein Trump launches offensive broadsides and character attacks; He gets bad press; Republican leaders clamor for Trump to tone down his rhetoric; Trump obliges, often using a teleprompter to restrain himself; Media figures claim Trump has “pivoted” and is “becoming more presidential”; and repeat.

As MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace said, Trump constantly shatters the “pivot” narrative “by trotting out conspiracy theories” — or, as others have noted, outrageous insults — within hours of being lauded as “presidential.”

In following this pattern, the media are both applauding Trump for having simply mastered “campaign 101,” as CNN’s David Gregory noted, and excusing his past remarks as political maneuvering and electoral showmanship.

In early June, after Trump launched a multiday racist crusade against Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over Trump University lawsuits, Republican leaders beseeched Trump to “get on message” and “quit attacking … various minority groups in the country.” That very night, Trump delivered a speech — devoid of any attacks and with the aid of a teleprompter — that “sought to calm fretful Republicans bolting from his side over his latest controversy,” CNN reported.

Media figures immediately claimed that Trump’s restraint showed he was “pivoting.” NBC News reporter Ali Vitaliwrote that Trump “acted presidential” in the speech, which “finalized his pivot to the general election.” CNN host Don Lemon said the “new, more presidential Donald Trump” is what “people in Washington wanted to see.” Unsurprisingly, Trump also received praise from right-wing media for sounding “more presidential than ever.”

CNN political commentator Marc Lamont Hill explained the phenomenon:

“It’s kind of a good outcome for Trump, because we’re not talking about a Mexican judge anymore. We’re not talking about something controversial. We’re talking about Trump changing the direction of his campaign. That can only be good news for him, based on what the last three weeks have been.”

GOP leaders condemned Trump’s repeated “offensive” suggestions that President Obama had sympathies for terrorists, but changed their tune once Trump delivered his next teleprompter-guided speech following the mass shooting in Orlando, FL. Some media figures said Trump sounded “more presidential” and was “behaving like general election nominees behave,” and Trump’s slanderous accusations against the president quickly fell out of the news cycle.

The “pivot” claim, which has repeatedly surfaced since at least February, has also helped wash away many of Trump’s past actions and comments: his doubling down on his proposed Muslim ban, his accusations that Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father was involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination, and his questioning of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s faith.

Some media figures have noted the journalistic malpractice associated with the constant fallback on the “pivot” narrative. New York Times Magazine correspondent Mark Leibovich, calling the narrative “absurd,” wrote:

But really, how do you pivot away from saying that Mexicans are rapists? (Will he negotiate “great deals” with more moderate Mexican rapists?) If your campaign is a cult of personality, how can you modulate that personality and still have the cult? In Trump’s case, a “pivot” would constitute a complete overhaul of his very essence.

Similarly, Washington Post opinion writer Kathleen Parker lambasted media’s “softening of criticism” of Trump and warned “the commentariat,” “Nothing makes Trump more acceptable today than yesterday or last week — or six months ago.”

The “pivot” narrative has become a reset button, allowing media to excuse or forget all of Trump’s past rhetorical assaults. Media figures are essentially condoning all of his racism, sexism, and conspiracies, so long as he sounds and acts subdued and presidential.

Image by Dayanita Ramesh and Sarah Wasko. 

Media figures have repeatedly claimed that presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is “pivoting” to the general election every time he does something that they think makes him look or sound “presidential.” Media’s constant search for Trump’s “pivot” effectively whitewashes all of the racist, sexist, slanderous, and conspiratorial attacks Trump has doled out, and mainstreams the idea that Trump’s past diatribes can be forgiven so long as he assumes a veneer of conventional, tempered behavior.

Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump and the media have engaged in a cycle wherein Trump launches offensive broadsides and character attacks; He gets bad press; Republican leaders clamor for Trump to tone down his rhetoric; Trump obliges, often using a teleprompter to restrain himself; Media figures claim Trump has “pivoted” and is “becoming more presidential”; and repeat.

As MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace said, Trump constantly shatters the “pivot” narrative “by trotting out conspiracy theories” — or, as others have noted, outrageous insults — within hours of being lauded as “presidential.”

In following this pattern, the media are both applauding Trump for having simply mastered “campaign 101,” as CNN’s David Gregory noted, and excusing his past remarks as political maneuvering and electoral showmanship.

In early June, after Trump launched a multiday racist crusade against Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over Trump University lawsuits, Republican leaders beseeched Trump to “get on message” and “quit attacking … various minority groups in the country.” That very night, Trump delivered a speech — devoid of any attacks and with the aid of a teleprompter — that “sought to calm fretful Republicans bolting from his side over his latest controversy,” CNN reported.

Media figures immediately claimed that Trump’s restraint showed he was “pivoting.” NBC News reporter Ali Vitaliwrote that Trump “acted presidential” in the speech, which “finalized his pivot to the general election.” CNN host Don Lemon said the “new, more presidential Donald Trump” is what “people in Washington wanted to see.” Unsurprisingly, Trump also received praise from right-wing media for sounding “more presidential than ever.”

CNN political commentator Marc Lamont Hill explained the phenomenon:

“It’s kind of a good outcome for Trump, because we’re not talking about a Mexican judge anymore. We’re not talking about something controversial. We’re talking about Trump changing the direction of his campaign. That can only be good news for him, based on what the last three weeks have been.”

GOP leaders condemned Trump’s repeated “offensive” suggestions that President Obama had sympathies for terrorists, but changed their tune once Trump delivered his next teleprompter-guided speech following the mass shooting in Orlando, FL. Some media figures said Trump sounded “more presidential” and was “behaving like general election nominees behave,” and Trump’s slanderous accusations against the president quickly fell out of the news cycle.

The “pivot” claim, which has repeatedly surfaced since at least February, has also helped wash away many of Trump’s past actions and comments: his doubling down on his proposed Muslim ban, his accusations that Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father was involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination, and his questioning of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s faith.

Some media figures have noted the journalistic malpractice associated with the constant fallback on the “pivot” narrative. New York Times Magazine correspondent Mark Leibovich, calling the narrative “absurd,” wrote:

But really, how do you pivot away from saying that Mexicans are rapists? (Will he negotiate “great deals” with more moderate Mexican rapists?) If your campaign is a cult of personality, how can you modulate that personality and still have the cult? In Trump’s case, a “pivot” would constitute a complete overhaul of his very essence.

Similarly, Washington Post opinion writer Kathleen Parker lambasted media’s “softening of criticism” of Trump and warned “the commentariat,” “Nothing makes Trump more acceptable today than yesterday or last week — or six months ago.”

The “pivot” narrative has become a reset button, allowing media to excuse or forget all of Trump’s past rhetorical assaults. Media figures are essentially condoning all of his racism, sexism, and conspiracies, so long as he sounds and acts subdued and presidential.

Image by Dayanita Ramesh and Sarah Wasko. 

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump looks at the crowd while addressing The Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road To Majority” conference in Washington, U.S., June 10, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts 

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11 Comments

  1. docb June 27, 2016

    Tubby stubby is stumbling around in the self made morass of his bigotry, racism, misogyny, and intellectual vacuum.. A cheap liar with dubious net worth!

    Reply
  2. Aaron_of_Portsmouth June 27, 2016

    Trump is forever pivoting whenever a change in the direction of the wind affords him more opportunity to market himself. Only the most mentally impaired would be taken in by this chameleon/charlatan whose sole aim in life has been to acquire wealth and flaunt it.
    The obsessive desire for money and attention will be his eternal epitaph and will be stamped on his brow unless he can make a radical change—-which seems highly unlikely given the profile nurtured in him by his parents, and by those who closely associate with him.

    Reply
  3. Paul Bass June 27, 2016

    Come on NM, this article is twice as long, BECAUSE it repeats itself!

    Editors, do your job! Come on people, the bots can’t do ALL your work!

    Reply
  4. Joan June 27, 2016

    Trump CANNOT pivot because by doing so he would pivot away from his base. He CANNOT pivot because he doesn’t have the cash to buy air time and it is his crazy conspiracies, outrageous insults and insane policy ideas that get him the air time he needs. He CANNOT pivot because big money donors will not support him and he needs the small donors ginned up by his cause celebrity of the day. He CANNOT pivot because his rallies are well attended because of the spectacle and circus That is the Trump candidacy. America does not have the millions of years it would take for Trump to evolve into a thoughtful, knowledgeable, Presidental candidate.

    Reply
  5. Daniel Jones June 27, 2016

    This is Trump, and it’s not a pivot–
    ~~
    ~~
    ~~
    Everybody form a circle
    Put your left foot in
    Your left foot out
    Your left foot in
    And shake it all about
    You do the hokey pokey
    And turn yourself around
    ~~
    Now put your right foot in
    Your right foot out
    Right foot in
    Then you shake it all about
    And then you do the hokey pokey
    Turn yourself around
    That’s what it’s all about
    ~~
    ~~
    ~~
    That is Trump. And it is not a pivot.

    Reply
  6. jmprint June 27, 2016

    When Darth Vader takes of his costume off, he is still evil, just like Trump.

    Reply
  7. johninPCFL June 27, 2016

    Where are all of the teleprompter complainers? What’s happened to the group who lambastes Obama and Clinton for using the teleprompter?
    Here’s the GOP telling them that Trump is unelectable unless he stays on message, and can’t stay on message unless that message is read out to him.

    Reply
    1. FireBaron June 28, 2016

      Another Republican who had the problem of staying on message and not using his teleprompters was George W. Bush. Every time he opened his mouth and came up with off the cuff remarks, his staff had to scramble to come up with “what he really meant when he said that” on damn near a weekly basis.

      Reply
  8. Katstiles June 27, 2016

    Trump doesn’t get a pivot point, redo, replay, or anything else the Press or the GOP wants to call it. He has shown the world what a slime ball he is for years, if they care to talk to all the people he and his family have ripped off, scammed and stolen from. His comments about Mexicans, Veterans, Women, Muslims, Blacks, Disabled, LGBT, and Journalists are all just mayo on the huge Trump crap sandwich he feeds his sheep. He is a nasty, vulgar, loudmouthed, uninformed, ignorant self involved oaf who I wouldn’t trust with my car keys, much less the Presidency of the United States!

    Reply
    1. FireBaron June 28, 2016

      Which, unfortunately, is why the nasty, vulgar, loudmouthed, uninformed, ignorant sheeple who follow him do so.

      Reply

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