Support from liberal women grows -- but so does worry about political vitriol.
The New York Times recently flubbed a Trump counter-story, publishing an "expose" revealing that, in addition to publicly insulting high-profile women, he can also act unseemly toward them in private.
The Times story didn't catch on because it was largely untrue. It was loosely based in facts, though their arrangement and context were almost embarrassingly calculated. It failed because it didn't live down to our secret hopes and expectations. Trump in private wasn't nearly so extreme as his public statements might have led reporters to expect.
The media is fickle, but in a fairly predictable way. A story comes along -- a narrative with familiar plot and characters -- and if it triggers enough of our insalubrious impulses, it clicks right into the eyeball-tracking machinery of the media, and gets taken for a long, fast ride.
Then, after briefly dominating the Internet, airwaves, and print media, the narrative's audience potential is almost fully squeezed and spent. At that point, to keep the old eyeballs and attract new ones, it is followed onstage by its logical successor -- a younger, hotter sibling story.
'A Hot Media Creation'
Donald Trump -- the raja of the anti-establishment right -- has already received extraordinarily generous media treatment. On its surface, the narrative propelling Trump has been largely critical: he insults women; he is bigoted toward Mexicans and Muslims; he is dividing the nation. All true and made breathtakingly clear through the candidate's words, which violate every former dictate of political correctness.
But in politics and the media, the only really negative publicity is no publicity. By dominating the news cycle, Trump has emerged as the media's front-runner for the White House -- the candidate best able to guarantee high ratings, reporter prestige and a massive flow of network and online advertising dollars.
Trump is still a hot media creation, but the main story needs to be freshened up, with new spins that reflect and exaggerate our expectations, but about which we can pretend to be surprised. The Trump counter-stories won't originate from the Trump campaign -- though the candidate and his supporters will get the credit. The stories will be products of the media market's all-consuming drive to attract fresh new eyeballs and ears and, in the process, ad revenue.
The Times expected readers to be "surprised" by the revelations -- that is, validated in their expectation that Trump often debases women in private too, probably in ghastly ways. But they expected more titillating examples, especially after the build-up in the headline and opening paragraphs. After reading, or in many cases, hearing the story, most of us were left with the impression, "Yeah, ok - That's not too surprising."
More effective counter-stories are on the way, however. Advertising departments are hungry for them, so editors and reporters -- who want them for many reasons -- will have them easily printed and aired.
A Tale of Two Elections
Which ones can we expect soon? The first effective counter-story will begin like this: Donald Trump is no longer just the raja of the anti-establishment right. Now he is attracting the angry and disappointed left as well. One in four Sanders supporters, plus independents and mainstream Democrats fed up with the Obama/Clinton status quo, will be portrayed as edging toward Donald this November. Almost half the switchover voters are women.
That is a "must play" story because, in terms of media narrative, a landslide victory for Hillary is the worst election result. Reporters will be straining to see any evidence that Democrats and independents, especially women, are shifting Trump's way. And as they report it, it may well become increasingly true.
The second counter-story will begin like this: Donald Trump has brought political anger in America to its boiling point. Now a small but rapidly-growing movement of Americans on both the right and left are coming forward, demanding that both Trump and Clinton, and others down ballot from them, make bipartisan commitments to positive solutions for America. More than six in ten of the movement's supporters are women.
Both stories are based in fact, but their moment in the media cycle has not yet been reached. The latter isn't as sexy or, to many, as scary as the former. But of the two, it's the more important. We should all do everything we can to harness the media's appetite to tell us that, after exploding apart, we're now beginning to come back together.
In media and politics, reality follows belief. It's time to unite. Let's make it so.