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Donald Trump was done wrong. The New York Times’ story that attempted to prove the liberal truth that he’s an inveterate misogynist by cobbling together old anecdotes wasn’t fair. However, the reporters are doubling down.
The Times' Trump story plays into Trump’s hands, of course, because he’s most popular when he’s warring with "smug elites." I watched the movie "Moneyball" the other day, and it occurred to me that Trump has adopted the plot of almost every Hollywood movie: aggrieved guy takes on Big Bad System. He’s borrowed the shadowy global "syndicate" or whatever they call it from Bond movies, and replaced it with "the establishment." He’s a billionaire Robin Hood. It’s clever mythology.
Still, the media should be fair. Conservatives think Republicans are subjected to double standards, tougher coverage and slanted stories. Sometimes, they’re right.
The worst part of The New York Times’ "Trump hates women" story is that they’re still defending it.
The Times scrounged up very old, often silly anecdotes from swimsuit models and beauty queens. We learn that Trump scrutinized the beauty of beauty queens and rated women’s looks. Tell us something we don’t already know. Oh, and he kissed a beauty queen on the lips to say hello years ago.
There was nothing particularly shocking in the story – other than the already much-reported and troubling claim that his ex-wife Ivana once said he’d raped her, a description she now strongly disavows.
There were no stories of office trysts with a young intern he was in a position of power over and ruined the life of or a credible claim of rape that has not been disavowed or attempts to smear and destroy such women or logbooks of trips on the plane of a sex offender who exploited underage girls. Oh, right. That’s the Clintons.
The story gave one the impression that Trump, now 69, was a womanizer in his 40s who dated and admired beautiful women because he could. That didn’t stop JFK from being a good president.
Actually, the only shocking finding, largely buried in the article, was that Trump promoted women to run his companies, at a time when this was unusual in the construction industry. He entrusted women with positions of authority. He even stood up to his traditional father in order to hire a woman as head of construction. These women thank him for the opportunities (although he did ask one if she liked candy). This does not fit the overarching media narrative. It also was not the prevailing narrative of The Times’ piece. The Times’ reporters dismiss this as "a shrewd reliance on ambitious women."
We also learned that, in 1964, Trump only brought pretty women to campus. Wouldn’t most men if they could?
Of course, Trump is running to be the Leader of the Free World, so a thorough scouring of his biography tells us information we may need (although it would be nice if The Times now scrounged around for anecdotes about how Hillary Clinton has treated the women that Bill misused; start by asking her about Juanita Broaddrick).
The key problem with The Times’ story wasn’t that reporters reprinted an old story about Trump asking swimsuit model and later girlfriend Rowanne Brewer Lane to put on a swimsuit at a pool party. Their key defense has been that the anecdote was reported accurately.
The problem is that the reporters – and the headline writer – inserted their own judgment about that anecdote into what they argue was an objective news story, not a column. (If you want to know the difference, this is most definitely a column.) They framed the story negatively and attached editorial opinion to what happened.
However, the swimsuit model doesn’t share their editorial judgment about her own anecdote. She was flattered. According to Politico, she said, "He was very gracious. I saw him around all types of people, all types of women. He was very kind, thoughtful, generous, you know? He was a gentleman."
The Times reporters – Michael Barbaro and Megan Twohey, the latter formerly of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – disagree. They wrote that what Trump did was "debasing."
After describing the pool party anecdote, they wrote: "This is the public treatment of some women by Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president: degrading, impersonal, performed" before outlining impersonally delivered insults we already know, such as Trump referring to Rosie O’Donnell as a dog (which is not a good thing, of course). Of Brewer Lane, they wrote, "But the 1990 episode at Mar-a-Lago that Ms. Brewer Lane described was different: a debasing face-to-face encounter between Mr. Trump and a young woman he hardly knew."
Brewer Lane told Fox & Friends that The Times "did take quotes from what I said and they put a negative connotation on it. They spun it to where it appeared negative. I did not have a negative experience with Donald Trump."
Brewer Lane said Trump "never made me feel like I was being demeaned in any way, he never offended me in any way."
When CNN asked Twohey if Brewer Lane or other women used the word "debase," she dodged the question, saying Brewer Lane was just one voice in the story. However, The Times led off with Brewer Lane’s anecdote to set up the narrative that Trump was a slimy jerk. The headline also editorialized. The story was called, in part, "crossing the line." Why should the feelings of the reporters on the incident trump those of the woman it happened to?
When I read the anecdote, I didn’t think, "debasing!" I thought, "Seriously, this is the best they could find?" We’re supposed to be incredibly offended that Trump, 26 years ago, asked a swimsuit model to put on a swimsuit at a pool party and then said, "Wow"? I googled the woman in question out of curiosity. Most of the pictures from her in that era showcase her posing in swimsuits. I challenge you to look at them and not think "wow," as well.
A second woman mentioned in the Times' story, former Miss USA Carrie Prejean, also criticized it, saying the newspaper selectively quoted her book to make Trump look bad without mentioning that she told the Times, "I have nothing bad to say about him." She says the Times also left out passages in her book that were favorable to Trump.
"I talk very highly of Mr. Trump. I don't say anything negative about him." Sounds like cherry picking facts to fit a narrative. The book passage quoted by the Times recounted Trump assessing women in a beauty pageant based on their looks. Again, how shocking, that someone would actually judge women who voluntarily sign up for beauty pageants on their beauty.
In this race, I care about three things: the American economy, protecting America from ISIS and the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the media accuses Trump of creating sideshows when they also create them.
It’s also extremely rich for the national media to criticize Trump for subjecting women to unrealistic beauty standards. When’s the last time you saw a normal-looking woman on cable TV? Most national TV reporters look like swimsuit models, frankly. Then there was Chris Matthews caught ogling Trump’s wife on MSNBC the other day.
American beauty culture is pretty sick at times. Women in European countries are allowed to age; women like Helen Mirren prove that a few wrinkles can be sexier than a lot of plastic. Yes, it’s not great that Trump feeds into America’s twisted obsession with body image; it’s shallow. I’m just not sure what it has to do with his ability to run the national economy, and I don’t think it makes him unusual.
If we disqualified all men from office who ogle hot women, who’d be left? Just the ones who don’t admit it, I suppose.
Jessica McBride spent a decade as an investigative, crime, and general assignment reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and is a former City Hall reporter/current columnist for the Waukesha Freeman.
She is the recipient of national and state journalism awards in topics that include short feature writing, investigative journalism, spot news reporting, magazine writing, blogging, web journalism, column writing, and background/interpretive reporting. McBride, a senior journalism lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has taught journalism courses since 2000.
Her journalistic and opinion work has also appeared in broadcast, newspaper, magazine, and online formats, including Patch.com, Milwaukee Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio, El Conquistador Latino newspaper, Investigation Discovery Channel, History Channel, WMCS 1290 AM, WTMJ 620 AM, and Wispolitics.com. She is the recipient of the 2008 UWM Alumni Foundation teaching excellence award for academic staff for her work in media diversity and innovative media formats and is the co-founder of Media Milwaukee.com, the UWM journalism department's award-winning online news site. McBride comes from a long-time Milwaukee journalism family. Her grandparents, Raymond and Marian McBride, were reporters for the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel.
Her opinions reflect her own not the institution where she works.